GLOBALIST | 29 JANUARY, 2018
‘Xi Ping Thought’: A Look at China From Within
Xi Ping has defined his vision for China for five years
In a little over four years in office, China’s President Xi Ping has demonstrated his determination to leave a deeper imprint on the country compared to his predecessors. Suave, articulate and apparently ruthless, Xi has been pushing China’s economic and strategic interests aggressively while at home he has not balked at targeting and punishing senior political leaders and army officials on charges of corruption.
The primacy of the Communist party has been repeatedly reiterated by him often in the context of control over the armed forces.
Xi Ping has defined his vision for China for five years in a 3.5 hours speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress in 2017.
The agenda he has outlined focused on upholding the party leadership, deepening economic reform and developing China’s global influence by 2050. Rising protectionism and anti-globalisation sentiment; regional and economic instability; a widening wealth gap; terrorism, major epidemics, cyberspace insecurity and climate change figured prominently as areas where China sought international cooperation.
Xi called for countries to join China to build a common destiny for mankind and enduring peace and stability. He said China will continue its peaceful and independent foreign policy, uphold international justice and refrain from interfering in other countries' domestic affairs and gave an assurance that China even if it became an international power its growth would pose to threat to any nation.
The past years have seen Chinese actions domestically and internationally adhering to the principles define by Xi in his speech. His impact has been such that party cadres have proposed adding ‘Xi Ping Thought’ to the Chinese Constitution which will make him the only sitting leader after the late Mao Zedong to have his name mentioned in the Constitution.
There is however no mention of initiating democratic reforms in the country and China remains brutal in dealing with human rights activists or those advocating reforms that will diminish the role and control of the Communist Party.
Xi has said that the party must step up its role in all aspects of the Chinese people' lives while upholding ideological correctness to weed out dissenters and attempts to copy Western democracy. Xi has vowed to crack down ruthlessly on any attempts to sabotage the party's leadership and on separatists, terrorists and religious extremists.
The authorities have no qualms about detaining and punishing those citizens seen to be causing disruptions by advocating human rights or calling for western style democracy or maligning China abroad.
In the fight against corruption China is in the process of amending its Constitution. The Communist Party is to meet next month to discuss amending the constitution and to talk about the ongoing fight against graft ahead of March's expected passing of a new anti-corruption law.
Fighting deeply ingrained graft has been a key policy plank for President Xi Jinping and a new National Supervision Commission is to be set up. Trial work has already begun for that commission but Chinese legal scholars have said the country needed to amend its constitution before it can set up the new commission to ensure there is a proper constitutional basis for its powers.
The past years have seen the Chinese aggressively seeking to rope in as many countries as possible in the Belt and Road initiative designed to expand China’s economic and, by consequence, political clout. The project comprises 6 geographically structured corridors, and the maritime silk road targeting 60 countries in Asia and Europe with an eye on Oceania and East Africa also.
China has invited Latin American and Caribbean countries to join the initiative also and the latest entrant is Venezuela The initial focus is on infrastructure investment, construction materials, railway and highway, automobile, real estate, power grid, and iron and steel.
China has set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to address the expanding infrastructure needs across Asia, enhance regional integration, promote economic development and improve the public access to social services. Xi Ping has also announced the creation of a $40 billion development fund to invest in businesses rather than lend money for projects.
On the domestic front a major campaign to achieve technological excellence in industrial and scientific fields has been undertaken. As part of the modernisation process the Communist Party of China has said that priority will be given to reforms in key areas including state-owned enterprises and state-owned assets, monopoly sectors, finance and taxation, property rights protection, rural revitalization, social security, opening up, and ecological conservation.
Financial stability is considered imperative and the authorities had made progress in bringing to heel major banks known as “grey rhinos” that posed significant threats to the economy.
The latest growth forecasts for China from the World Bank suggest that as against a growth rate of 6.8 percent in 2017 as a consequence of increasing personal consumption and foreign trade China’s 2018 and 2019 GDP growth will be around 6.4 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, because of monetary policies and the government’s effort to rein in credit and control leverage. The risks to the forecast are the still rising leverage of the non-financial sector and uncertainty around housing prices.
The World Bank has said that despite a recent slowdown credit continued to grow considerably faster than GDP. Outstanding bank loans reached 150 percent of GDP in November 2017, up from 103 percent at the end of 2007. Beijing’s campaign to reduce risks in the financial sector has pushed up borrowing costs which could hit GDP growth.
China remains determined to ensure the security of its strategic interests. Domestically, Xinjiang remains a thorn in Beijing’s side and has witnessed what are termed terrorist actions. The authorities have announced that the Xinjiang Utgur Autonomous region will step up border control measures this year to create a "Great Wall" along its 5,700-kilometer border to prevent the penetration of extremism, separatism and terrorism from abroad.
There will be greater internet management to maintain social stability and reliance on technology to enhance frontline border control and improve infrastructure in border areas, such as road conditions. In 2017 Xinjiang introduced a series of security measures including setting up a network of police stations in all cities and townships to quickly react to any emergencies.
The region has always been China's front line against terrorism. The penetration of religious extremism had led to a number of terrorist attacks in recent years and reports suggested that Uygurs from Xinjiang have also joined Islamic State and on return could be a source of problems.
Externally China is seeking to expand its military reach and seeking greater maritime capabilities along strategic sea routes. After establishing its first overseas military base in Djibouti, in the horn of Africa reports said China plans to acquire a military base in Pakistan at Jiwani close to the Iran border in the Gulf of Oman and only 85 km from Gwadar port in Pakistan.
On the South China Sea issue there has been no give from the Chinese and according to the Americans satellite images show new military facilities, including missile shelters and radar and communications facilities being constructed on islands in the South China Sea. China has so far effectively warded off American pressure, political and military, on its activities in the South China Sea and its ASIAN neighbours have remained silent despite the islands being claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
At an ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in 2017 the communique omitted references to China’s activities while reportedly considering an ASEAN-China code of maritime conduct that will not be legally binding, nor adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Ministers agreed to avoid “unilateral actions in disputed features”.
The ascendancy of President Duterte in the Philippines, which was the Chair of ASEAN in 2017, has increased China’s clout even though the Philippines had earlier been one of the strongest opponents of Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
China’s approach to foreign policy is simple—expand the economic clout, ensure that its strategic interests are not tampered with, smile and talk but keep the powder dry. The continuity in the approach that China has adopted over the decades is likely a major contributor to its growing influence in countries beyond its own periphery.
China has dismissed the Trump administration’s National Security Doctrine that termed China a "revisionist" power for seeking a change in the American-led world order. The Chinese told the Americans to abandon outdated zero-sum thinking, and work together with China to seek common ground and engage in win-win cooperation.
Specifically on the South China Sea Issue where every Chinese action is viewed as an existential threat to America’s lifelines, US Secretary of State Tillerson said China should not be allowed access to islands it had built in the South China Sea since the islands are in “international waters”.
The Chinese made it clear that the USA was not a party to the issue and that China’s sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea was and is “irrefutable” The Chinese Airforce and Navy remained active to assert China’s claims.
China’s hold on Hong Kong’s “democracy” was demonstrated during the Legislative Council elections in 2016 when despite the efforts of the pro-democracy activists the pro Beijing parties secured a majority. In recent years despite paying lip service to the “ one country two systems” principle there had been a noticeable tightening of control by Beijing’s Communist Party leaders.
In 2014 the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” street demonstrations, which lasted for over two months and involved tens of thousands of students and young demonstrators faced a major crackdown with many of the leaders imprisoned. The protest was part of the biggest populist uprising for decades in Hong Kong and posed a spirited challenge to Beijing’s Communist Party leaders in demanding full democracy.
The Beijing leadership harboured suspicions that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party would seek formal independence for Taiwan. Though talks between interlocutors from the two sides continued China had stepped up military drills around Taiwan. China said that the exercises were routine, but that it would not tolerate any attempt by the island to declare independence. Tsai said in a TV interview that she did not exclude the possibility of China attacking the self-ruled island.
India is today surrounded by the Chinese presence. Chinese money and investments, Chinese goods and machinery, Chinese projects and Chinese manpower are present in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sikkim. The recent victory of the Left alliance in Nepal with K.P Sharma Oli likely to become Prime Minister is seen as a major boost for China which has also broken India’s internet monopoly in Nepal.
In the Maldives the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with China has shaken Indian observers while in Sri Lanka and Myanmar the Chinese presence is a constant reminder of the determination with which the Chinese leadership sought to ensure its naval dominance.
The Chinese have been playing a slow quiet game in resource rich Afghanistan, making inroads with the Taliban and hosting their delegations possibly anticipating the day when the Americans will finally tire and pull out.
India itself is flooded with Chinese goods. While the Chinese smiled and spoke of neighbourly relations, trade and economic cooperation has always been a steely reassertion of the Chinese claim to Arunachal Pradesh and a clear message that no amount of border talks were going to change the Chinese stand.
Incursions by Chinese troops and construction activities including at Doklam and the Arunachal border, when objected to by India always drew the same response—that the Chinese were in their own territory. On the question of having Masood Azhar declared a terrorist, the Chinese have been quite dismissive of India’s arguments and continued to stymie Indian efforts at the United Nations to have Azhar declared a global terrorist.