The emergence of the Communist Party in China (CPC) also known as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) one hundred years ago changed the geo-strategic paradigm of that country. Founded in 1921 in the city of Shanghai, mainly by Chen Duxlu and Li Dazhao, at a time when the vast country was racked by war and poverty, it received initial support from the Far Eastern Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This enabled the CPC to grow quickly and by 1949 had garnered sufficient strength to drive the Kuomintang Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek out of China to Taiwan at the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War. This led to the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
Political historians have noted that the principle of democratic centralism that guides the CCP is based on the principle of democratic centralism and Marxism-Leninism that was conceived by the Russian leader Vladimir Lenin. This entails and ensures a democratic and open discussion on policy on the condition of unity in upholding the agreed upon policies. This evolving scenario received a further push forward over the years from the great Chinese leadership-- starting from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping.
It may be recalled here that after coming to power, China under Mao had a difficult time. Under his leadership it went to war against the USA in the Korean Peninsula with the help of the Soviet Union. That brought about difficult economic challenges within the country. However, under Mao's guidance the early and mid-1950s saw the Party's rise in power through public support and the gradual overcoming of the socio-economic challenges.
However, 1958 saw the initiation of some more difficulties because of the Communist Party's new philosophy of 'Great Leap Forward' that aimed at transforming an agrarian China into a modern industrial power. There were differences of opinion and protests but the dynamics continued. There was also deconstruction of household farming and the establishment of "people's communes", Mao also mobilised the entire country's infrastructure to catch up with the United Kingdom in terms of steel output.
Historians have, however, drawn attention to the fact that this effort did not have the desired consequences. Some strategists associated with socio-economic history, have during the anniversary celebrations, recalled the severe economic collapse and the famine between 1959 and 1961- when up to 36 million people are supposed to have died.
He also launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to promote the Communist institution. It was a great effort by the exemplary leader but many other initiatives stopped with his passing away in 1976.
After that came the pragmatic leadership of Deng Xiaoping. He provided China with a fresh lease of life. With the rise of Xi Jinping in 2012 the cycle of pragmatism has moved forward with care. In this context, in his own way the current Chinese President, a transformational leader, has added greater paradigms that did not exist in the time of his predecessors-- Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.
The matrix guiding the CCP has had to take into account over the last three decades the collapse of Eastern European communist governments in 1989-1990 and also the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This has been a difficult task but China appears to have been able to surmount many of the changing dimensions. As of 2021, the CCP has emerged as the second largest political party in the world with over 95 million members-- slightly behind India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As the ruling Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary at the end of June, analyst Michael Standaert drew particular attention to the fact that in the current scenario China's leaders "face formidable economic challenges, from falling birth rates and income inequality to rural-urban opportunity gaps." He has also warned that if the Chinese leadership fails to successfully address these issues, the country will fail to reach a higher, more developed status.
In this context, some observers have pointed out that private education companies, in principle, are facing difficulties in providing extracurricular lessons to numerous Chinese children and are being very carefully monitored by the government in view of the pressure generated by them on students whose education is turning out sometimes to be financial burdens for families. Similarly, falling birth rates and a rapidly ageing population are spelling trouble for China's future economic growth.
To this is being added the factors related to income inequality, sub-regional economic disparities and wide gaps in economic opportunities that are available within the rural and urban areas. Nevertheless, such anxiety should not be identified as being solely dominant in China. This is also found in the United States, and many countries of Europe and Latin America.
China's President Xi Jinping has, however, in his speech in late January promised to tackle the nation's pressing problems so that China is able to usher in an era of "common prosperity". To enable such a profile to emerge, Xi has decided to offer better income distribution, education, social security, affordable medical care, housing, elderly care, child support, and quality employment. These might be difficult tasks because of existing structural and political barriers, but China has shown the world that it can overcome challenges. Otherwise, it would not be the second largest economy in the world today.
Deng Yuwen, former editor of an influential Communist Party newspaper, now living in exile, has made an interesting observation. Ten years ago, the Party was gradually fading into the background and Xi Jinping was not satisfied with that. Consequently, over the last decade he has taken comprehensive steps to use the Party to control the entire country on the basis of authoritarian values. He has also noted that now "China is powerful; it's doing business with the world, so other countries need to be mindful of China's emotions and its practices".
Max Baucus, a former US Democratic Party Senator who served as US ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017 has also stated something similar in terms of denotation. He has drawn attention to a nuance- "The vast bulk of people in China… care very little about changes in the Party structure because they're more concerned about their own lives. Living standards in China have risen dramatically in the last 20 years and they're very happy about that." This factor is something that must not be overlooked by the USA.
In this regard strategic analysts have pointed to the large quantities of pomp, pageantry and pyrotechnics that was evident in the Chinese celebrations on CCP's 100th birthday and reiterated that this dynamics brought into sharp relief the prospect of an ever-rising, ever more prosperous capitalist China.
One needs to note here that the Chinese government's celebrations were planned meticulously. It was kicked off by Xi Jinping on June 29 through a ceremony honouring 29 people for "outstanding contributions to the party". Recipients of the newly established July 1 medal included several soldiers and officials from the restive provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang (where the United Nations has said about one million, mostly Muslim, Uighurs have been held in detention camps that China calls vocational skills training centres). This interesting move was obviously undertaken by Beijing to demonstrate that the Communist Party considers that it is important to battle separatism and encourage loyalty to the Communist Party.
On July1, Xi in his speech displayed his determination by warning foreign powers that they will "get their heads bashed" if they attempt to bully or influence China unnecessarily. He also underlined that Beijing would not allow "sanctimonious preaching"-- remarks that obviously were aimed at the United States. Many have seen these elements as being a riposte by China to the criticism over alleged human rights abuses.
It may also be noted here that relations between the USA and China have worsened in recent times over trade, espionage and the pandemic. The issue of Taiwan has also become a major source of anxiety. While democratic Taiwan considers itself as a sovereign state, Beijing still views the island as a breakaway province and Xi has on many occasions underlined that China has an "unshakeable commitment" towards unification with Taiwan. This was reiterated once again through his comment that "No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity." Added to this awkward equation is the fact that the USA under its own laws is required to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself should Beijing use force to take Taiwan back.
Mr. Xi while speakng for around an hour, reiterated the role of the Communist Party in modern China, and emphasised that the Party has been central to the country's growth and that attempts to separate it from its 1.4 billion people would "fail". In this regard he also re-affirmed that "only socialism can save China and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China."
In his reference to Hong Kong and Macau, Xi rebutted criticism by underlining that both would retain a "high degree of autonomy". However, at the same time efforts should be made by both of them also to "accurately implement the principles of 'One Country, Two Systems". The CCP to restate Xi's conviction also used the opportunity to end their special programme in Beijing with a song called "Without the Communist Party There Would Be No New China". Unfortunately, some Western electronic media have termed these efforts as a "propaganda campaign".
Nevertheless, there are still many areas where China despite its attempts at proactive engagement with the rest of the world still faces questions. They relate to the subjects associated not only with trade and investment but also development.
These are all reflected in issues linked with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China-Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative. One can only hope that differences of opinion remain within the matrix of good governance rather than becoming politicised because of national interest.
Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her message sent on July 1 to the Chinese Communist Party has justifiably wished them well and hoped for a more fruitful relationship between China and Bangladesh.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.