The Financial Express

China: The sleeping giant is wide awake

China: The sleeping giant is wide awake

Communism has been a boon for China. In the last one hundred years and especially since October 1949, the Communist Party has not only endured but has also transformed the country into a powerhouse, almost into a superpower. That communism can truly promote public welfare and consolidate a nation's unity has been demonstrated through a succession of Chinese leaders in the country since the communists marched into Beijing in 1949.

China has over the decades gone through upheavals, often unavoidable, in strengthening the country's economic and political base. Every revolution shakes up a society; and then a time comes when the revolutionary spirit settles. That time appears to have arrived, with President Xi Jinping letting the world know that China will not be bullied again. The statement is a reminder of Napoleon's warning more than two centuries ago. Let China sleep, he said, for when it wakes, it will shake the world.

China is giving the world a shake, in a way that is not to everyone's liking. There are neighbours gripping over Beijing's moves in the South China Sea, with the Chinese leadership clearly unwilling to pay heed to such worries. And then there are such issues as China's Belt-and-Road Initiative, causing considerable worries among nations which have been recipients of Beijing's largesse and quite at sea over the means of repaying it. Sri Lanka's Hambantota and Pakistan's Gwadar, together with massive projects undertaken in a number of African countries through Chinese aid, are powerful hints of the straitjacket needy societies could find themselves in. China's outreach, paradoxically, is worrying as well as a clear sign of the long road the country has travelled through the engine of communism. A hundred years after 1921, the Chinese Communist Party has arrived. Seventy two years after October 1949, the People's Republic of China has arrived.

It has been a long, arduous journey, the first stretch of it recorded in admirable detail by the American journalist-historian Edgar Snow in his seminal work, Red Star Over China. The 6,000-mile Long March undertaken by Mao Zedong and his comrades, fundamentally a struggle for survival in the face of the onslaught by Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang in the 1930s, was to be in historical hindsight a pointer to the future. The communists, who had already suffered at Chiang Kai-shek's hands in the 1920s, started out with 86,000 guerrillas. By the time the march ended, only 30,000 had survived. And yet in these survivors was a spirit of resilience that would eventually carry them to victory over their enemies. Strategy was all. While the Kuomintang Nationalists focused on capturing and holding on to towns and cities, Mao and his colleagues knew full well that it was China's peasantry which mattered. Revolution begins among the marginal sections of society. And the marginal were China's centuries-long suffering villagers.

In the villages of China, the Communist Party redefined society. With its legacy of warlords and ill-defined moves toward a democratic order initiated by Sun Yat-sen, coupled with foreign encroachment on its internal affairs, the party knew which path it needed to take. Its early attempts to partner with the Nationalists were part of the strategy necessary to come by power. And power came in 1949. An outmaneuvered Chiang Kai-shek and his team fled to Taiwan, which Beijing calls its renegade province that will one day return to the motherland. And yet power for the communists was but the beginning of new struggles.

The Korean War tested the staying power of the regime. And then came the movement that had Mao, by now undisputed leader of China, informing people that a hundred flowers ought to bloom. The Great Leap Forward did not have happy consequences, but it was the party's way of tying up some loose ends of the revolution. Between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, the Cultural Revolution was widely viewed in the outside world as a programme that unsettled various sectors of the Chinese state and society. Mao's goal was the preservation of the purity of the revolution. It all ended up causing disorder with the Red Guards, armed with Mao Zedong Thought, going around purging and humiliating some party leaders and broad sections of intellectuals. Liu Shaoqi, Mao's comrade for decades, died in wretched conditions in 1969. Lin Biao, designated Mao's successor, died in a plane crash in 1971 trying to flee after a coup attempt against his benefactor. Deng Xiaoping, destined to inaugurate a new dawn for the country, was twice sidelined under Mao. The patrician scholar-politician Zhou En-lai managed to survive and died some months before Mao in 1976.

The upheavals were to draw to an end in the post-Mao period, following the arrest of the Gang of Four and the arrival and departure of Hua Guo-feng. But if things within China were to be part of the programme of revolutionary consolidation, China's foreign policy has at crucial moments been of a somewhat controversial nature. The Chinese border conflict with India in 1962 was to leave relations between Delhi and Beijing impaired. And, surprisingly for a country that had periodically professed solidarity with the people of Asia and Africa in their struggle for self-determination, China looked away from the genocide caused by the Pakistan army in Bangladesh in 1971, in the interest of its closeness to Pakistan and also because Pakistan was being a conduit for a rapprochement between China and the United States. China's refusal to condemn the genocide was a contradiction of its foreign policy principles, compounded by its veto of Dhaka's application for entry into the United Nations. It was not until 1974 that Bangladesh became a member of the world body.

These lapses notwithstanding, China has made its niche on a global scale. Time was when US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake hands with Zhou En-lai at the Geneva Conference in 1954. And then came the historical correction, with President Richard Nixon making his odyssey to China in February 1972, hands outstretched in greeting to Zhou at the airport in Beijing. It was one more step in China's coming in from the cold, an earlier step being President Charles de Gaulle's decision in January 1964 to accord French diplomatic recognition to the country. It was the year when China joined the nuclear club and Zhou En-lai undertook an extensive tour of Africa. The Sino-Soviet border clashes in 1969 in the aftermath of the end of friendship between Moscow and Beijing were concerning, but China prevailed.

A hundred years after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, China is unstoppable. That is deeply troubling for the West, which looks at Chinese actions in Hong Kong in near despair. But Hong Kong will never be the same. The Beijing leadership will not step back from action it has taken in Hong Kong. Taiwan cannot long resist Beijing nor can the West defend Taiwan for all time. The patent truth is that China, through its rise, has brought the post-Soviet unipolar world dominated by the United States to an end. Its economy will sooner rather than later prevail over America's; its technology, already a presence in large parts of the globe, will dominate the world.

The question of resisting bullying by others apart, though, China will need to adopt a more flexible and accommodative position in its dealings with the world beyond its frontiers. Its history, its reputation as the Middle Kingdom, the centre of the world, is what the Communist Party today strives to restore. But that drive must abjure all thoughts of hegemony. Tibet is today part of China. Beijing needs to respond to global worries about the developments in Xinjiang province.


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