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Are We Going to Have a Friendlier China?

Are We Going to Have a Friendlier China?

Author: M. V. Kamath
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: November 28, 2002

On November 15, 2002, a new a post-Revolution generation of younger leaders assumed the reins of power of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and 59-year old Hu Jintao, currently vice-President, took over the party's secretaryship from his mentor and long-time leader (1989-2002) Jiang Zemin.  What does this presage for India? Or does it really matter? It would seem that six associates of Jiang have been named to the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee which is China's top ruling body which should normally mean that Jiang's policy towards India would possibly continue, unchanged.

But we will have to wait and see. Jiang may have retired from the secretaryship, but he will continue to be the President and chairman of the Central Military Commission at least until next March when the government leadership changes will be due.  Will this chosen successor Hu make any meaningful changes in China's foreign policy? Will he keep Pakistan a little further from his heart and at the same time come closer towards India? No one apparently knows and few dare to predict.

Sadly, the Indian media has been showing little interest in China and its leaders. What bells will ring in Indian minds if one mentions Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Huang Ju, Wu Guanzeng, Li Changchun and Luo Gan? There would hardly be anyone in India's political circles who would even be able to pronounce these names correctly. And yet these are the members of the Politburo who make policy. Isn't it time for our policy makers to wake up?

Even the new leader Hu is an unknown quantity in India. For that matter,  he is reported to be even more of an enigma even in China itself. A report in the `New York Times' says: ``Read the 68-page address that President Jiang Zemin delivered to the nation last week. Watch TV or read newspapers, listen to businessmen or people on the street. No one talks about Hu Jintao. The 59-year old party apparatchik has climbed to the top rung of the hierarchy leaving fingerprints. There is no policy, phrase or point of view clearly associated with Hu''. But then that is China, not India. Junior leaders do not speak out of turn. They know their place under the sun.

As long as Mao Tse tung was alive, Deng Xiaoping would not have dared to utter a world against his boss or his political theories. But once Mao was safely buried, Deng came into his own. In the case of Hu,  should he have any special views in mind he will, no doubt, have to wait for the demise of Jiang and that may take some more years. A former official ousted after the crack-down on the 1989 Democracy Movement in China has been quoted as saying that Hu is like the moon, reflecting light, or turning dark, depending on the circumstances. That may be an extreme description of the new leader hailing from the middle class (if such there is) but there is no doubt that the has survived a decade-long leadership trial by persuading elders that he is the perfect party mandarin, pragmatic and flexible, yet discreet and fiercely loyal.

The son of a merchant, Hu has been variously described as ``the enforcer who was the top official in Tibet when China imposed martial law there in 1989 to quell unrest, the nationalist who supported anti-American protesters after a US bomb destroyed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999, the innovator who installed broadband Internet access at the Communist Party school and encouraged academic debates about democracy and separation of powers'', and one, broadly speaking more interested in power for power's sake than in a larger political vision. That is not exactly what is likely to make India happy.

A man who can sternly put down a revolt in Tibet cannot be expected to be more accommodating when it comes to discussing boundary lines with India. Apparently Hu has been China-bound all of his 59 years except for two foreign trips last year.  This man needs to be watched. And yet, China is on the move even ideologically. Till the other day, the CPP cadres were bound by three guidelines or what China called ``Three Represents'' namely,  Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tse tung thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.  To these three have in recent times been added Jiang's dictum of capitalism within a framework of socialist modernisation which may be dismissed as a contradiction in terms but has been Jiang's contribution to current-day China's economic theory. It is expected to be pushed to its logical conclusion by Hu.

Given the backwardness of China's rural areas and life in China's backyard is no bed of roses and the influx of large numbers of untrained peasants towards the more developed urban centres along with east coast the task is by no means going to be easy for whoever is in power.  The `New York Times' quoted Wu Guoguang, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University as saying: ``People think Hu will fulfill their own dreams; the liberals see a reformer, the conservatives see a hardliner''. That is not a flattering description and may possibly reflect as much ignorance as knowledge about the man.

Besides, men change with the times. And nations don't have permanent enemies even as they don't have permanent friends. And whether Hu will have a new policy he certainly cannot be expected to develop one overnight or will merely continue Jiang's thesis which sanctions opening the party to private entrepreneurs, previously excluded as `capitalist exploiters'. It will be likely to be muted.

What is clear is that China is struggling to come to terms with economic realities and will to practise pragmatism as its political philosophy, with a determination that is frightening. Has anyone watched pictures of the Chinese Communist Party's 16th Congress closely? Has anyone noticed that `every one' of the 2,100 delegates seated in the Great Hall dressed exactly alike?

Every one wore a dark suit and tie. When they stood up again everyone seemed to follow a predetermined drill and they stood up with their hands by their side like so many robots.  Compare that audience with a similar one in India. Note how India's parliamentarians dress. No two Indian MPs dress alike; their forte is individualism. The Chinese forte is discipline, unanimity. If the party bosses lay down what dress members should wear the order is obeyed implicitly. Does it come as a surprise, then, that the party congress `unanimously' approved Jiang's proposal of opening party membership to formerly reviled capitalist entrepreneurs without anyone batting an eyelid? That is China.

One suspects that it is because China has no one strong religious belief that it can accept anything that seems workable as its immediate religion, whether it is Marxism-Leninism, or Mao-ism and what now goes for a strange marriage between socialism and unabashed capitalism and the implied de-humanisation of Labour.  For let is not be forgotten that it is American capital that is now being allowed to set up shop in China to exploit Chinese labour. Nothing can be more shameful. It is against everything that socialism has so far stood for.

China may describe it as pure pragmatism. It may even argue that the American exploitation of Chinese labour is a temporary phenomenon and will surely disappear once prosperity comes in a big even gradual way to the country.  Americans, like Ambassador Blackwill, are singing hosannabs to China's current open door polity. It suits them. Time was, soon after the second world war, then America similarly opened its doors to Japanese goods on a massive scale. No words of praise for Japanese entrepreneurship were sufficient but today Japanese economy is in the doldrums. Exploitation can go unchallenged only up to a point. A time comes when it becomes counter-productive.

No doubt China will learn its lesson with the passage of time. If the United States wants to open its gates to Chinese-manufactured apparel, bicycles, electronic goods and the like to enable its money lords to make a quick buck, it is welcome to do so.  India can only wait and see. What India needs immediately to do is to try to understand the new power structure in Beijing and make it see reason.

Before September 11, 2001, China appeared to have solidified a policy of playing off Pakistan against India and to undermine India's strength as much as possible. A current view in Delhi is that things have changed for the better, but if that is so, the change is hardly noticeable.  The dumping of cheap Chinese goods in India is not exactly a sign of friendship. That is yet another way, if none might say so, of undermining India's strength. India must make a concerted effort to keep Chinese goods out lest they do unacceptable damage not only to Indian industry but to Indian labour as well. Permitting cheap Chinese goods to flood India is to commit economic hara kiri.

Friendship with Beijing does not mean one has to destroy one's own economic infrastructure, for a Chinese smile, or a warm handshake. Delhi must put India's interests first, last and always. But China can still show that it cares for Indian friendship by taking a new look at Pakistan and its policies of encouraging terrorism. Every bit of help that China extends to Pakistan whether in the field of nuclear technology or of missiles is a calculated show of hostility towards India. And Delhi, one hopes, will make that much clear to Hu and his associates.

A policy of Chinese equidistance between Pakistan and India is the least that is acceptable to Delhi. One hopes that Hu is pragmatic enough to understand that much and act accordingly.  In an increasingly globalised world the ancient art of playing off one country against another to retain one's own security is getting to be redundant. The fourth generation Chinese leaders led by Hu, one hopes, will be the first one to realise it and make it the sheet anchor of its future foreign policy. That way lies wisdom and, what is more, greater scope for peace and prosperity.

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