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P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 18 OCTOBER, 2017

Xi Prepares to Edge Out US As Asia Policeman

P.K.BALACHANDRAN


COLOMBO: Asia is likely to see Chinese President Xi Jinping flexing his political muscles and continuing his pushy foreign policy after the end of the 19 th. Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),which began in Beijing on Wednesday.

Countries like India, which have an uneasy relationship with China, are likely to feel the heat of an aggressive Chinese foreign policy under a rejuvenated and perhaps more powerful Xi.

Sri Lanka, which still has some issues with China, may also come under increasing pressure to deliver on projects which the Chinese are keen on for their security and economic needs.

At the 19 th.party Congress, Xi is expected to further consolidate his already considerable power in the party and the government. And that is expected to have an impact on China’s foreign policy, including its stance on India.

The 19th Party Congress brings together 2,287 delegates representing 89 million party members. These delegates will in turn select officials of the party's elite 205-member Central Committee, which will in turn appoint the 25-member Politburo. The formation of a new Politburo Standing Committee will take place after that.

The Standing Committee – which currently has seven members – is the apex of political power in China. President Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang are current members and are expected to stay on.

Lower level government posts and top positions in state-run companies will also be filled during the summit.

However, most of the decisions on appointments have already been made keeping in view Xi’s interest. At any rate, party and government functionaries have already taken a pledge to follow Xi’s diktats, for he has already been designated as the “Core Leader.”

Xi is portrayed as the 21st.Century’s Mao Zedong in so far as concentration of power is concerned. And if Deng Xiaoping made significant internal changes to make China economically vibrant, Xi has made it a world power credibly challenging the supremacy of the US.

Xi’s power,both at home and abroad, rests on the structures he has created at home, the reforms he brought about on becoming President.

The first thing he did was to go after the corrupt elements in the party and the government. As Xi himself put it , he hunted the “tigers” and swatted the “flies” with equal and unremitting vigor.

Over 200,000 party and government functionaries were investigated and top notch functionaries like Bo Xilai; Zhou Yongkang (former Politiburo Standing Committee member); Xu Caihu (former Vice President of the Central Military Commission) and Ling Jihua (who served former President Hu Jintao as Supervisor of Party management) were investigated.

Xi has been a strong believer in market economics introduced by Deng and sustained by his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. But both Jiang and Hu were unable to keep the system on an even keel. They lacked the necessary drive to give the economy a direction and cull the dysfunctions. When Xi took over in 2013, there was a power vacuum crying to be filled and Xi filled it, re-introducing personalized rule.

Xi founded new institutions and put them all under his personal charge. He set up the Leading Group for Deepening Reform Comprehensively; the National Security Commission; and the Leading Group for Cyber Security. He put himself at the head of the Central Military Commission which controls all military activity and development projects. Xi decreed that all party institutions will report to the Politburo Standing Committee headed by him.

Xi streamlined “Chinese Capitalism” to make it less corrupt and liable to misuse by vested interests. He began the modernization of the military to make it “lean and mean” in the American way, and took measures to quip a drastically reduced force with modern technology and weaponry.

Xi realized that social distinctions were adversely affecting the morale of the hoi polloi . He did away with invidious distinctions in the provision of facilities for the urban and the rural people. China, he said, would be governed under the Rule of Law or the “Rule of the Constitution” as he put it.

Reckless industrialization was grievously affecting the environment. Therefore, Xi tempered it by encouraging the services sector. But partly on account of this and partly on account of the slowing of the world economy, Xi began to face issues stemming from excess and idle industrial capacity.

His answer to this was the US$ 1 trillion One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative which will put China’s overcapacity to use in dozens of projects abroad. Post 19 th.Party Congress, Xi will push other countries like Sri Lanka to accept projects under the OBOR and will try to get new projects by fair means and foul.

In fact, for all its protestations about co-existing with other countries and doing things together for mutual benefit, China will seek monopolies. And being used to exercising full control, will insist on getting controlling interests in all the projects it undertakes abroad.

Countries like Sri Lanka, which are lagging behind in the implementation of projects (including the Hambantota port which has many more agreements still be signed) will come under pressure to speed up. Chinese companies may also work their way into the local system through corruption.

It was reported in the State-owned Daily News on Tuesday, that an arrest warrant has been issued against a former Secretary to the Ministry of Water Management for giving to a Chinese company LKR 2.9 billion without government sanction, when the budgeted allocation for the project was only LKR 40 million.

The East Terminal in Colombo port was to be completed by an Indian company as per a previous “understanding” between India and Sri Lanka, but the deal has been shelved by the Sri Lankan government, leading to speculation that the Chinese might have put a spoke in the wheel. China runs the adjacent South Terminal. Grapevine has it that Sri Lanka may drag its feet on giving the Mattala airport to India in order not to ruffle Chinese feathers. China is ensconced in the adjacent seaport at Hambantota.

In other aspects of foreign policy too, Xi will enhance China’s already tough posture. Chinese troops have reportedly returned to the China-Bhutan border in Doklam, disregarding a détente with India which had led to a thinning of the Chinese military presence there.

Construction of more facilities under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir would proceed apace. Beijing would continue to play the Pakistan card against India on issues like the UN ban on Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azar and India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

On the issue of maritime security in the South and East China Seas and the Indian Ocean, China has given no indication whatsoever that it will listen to the Western world’s plea that it should abide by the existing maritime security rules. China continues to tout the theory that economic development of all the rim countries (through OBOR) is the only way to ensure maritime security.

With the Trump Administration in the US not keen on military engagement in Asia (it wants to withdraw from Afghanistan and has told Japan and South Korea that it cannot look after their defense any longer), the Asian strategic field has been thrown open to China.

And Xi is ready to step into the US’s shoes to be the net security provider in Asia’s seas or as some might say, be the next policemen of the region.

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