The Chinese Communist Party will undergo a major overhaul in 2012. Is India ready to face the new Chinese leadership?
One day in the mid-1960s, a boy named Xi Jinping in northern China had his life turned upside down when his father, an influential communist revolutionary and deputy prime minister, was purged and sentenced to manual labor in a factory. distant. The boy’s school was closed and he was sent to work in a rural area. For a time, it seemed that the Cultural Revolution, in which Mao Zedong tried to cleanse the country of ideological dissent, would claim Xi among its millions of victims.
But the boy was made of a tougher material. He survived against all odds. He had a genius for speeding up his life. Even though he hadn’t finished school, he enrolled in college and, through hard work, earned his degree in chemical engineering. Shortly after, he also obtained a doctorate even though he had not done his master’s degree.
And once Mao died and Deng Xiaoping overthrew Maoism and introduced free-market reforms, Xi plunged into politics. A series of double promotions later (his pedigree helped), he became the first secretary of the Communist Party Secretariat and the country’s vice president.
In 2012, he is ready to become president of China.
Li Kequiang followed a similar path to fame. Two years younger than Xi, Li was also sent on a rural work assignment. He joined the Communist Party and received his indoctrination very early in life. He even won an award for “Outstanding Individual in the Study of Mao Zedong.” But unlike Xi, Li didn’t have the family connections to back him up. He rose through the ranks of the Communist Youth League, the ideological powerhouse of the Chinese Communist Party, at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for the Indian Saffron Brigade.
He will likely become China’s next prime minister.
In addition, China’s most powerful decision-making body, the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, will be overhauled next year. Seven new members will join Xi and Li to take charge of policy-making in the world’s most populous and fastest-growing country over the next decade.
In communist China’s factional politics, Xi is identified as an elite, beneficiary of dynasty politics. However, Xi also enjoys strong public support and a favorable record of economic reform. Li is a scholar and is considered to belong to the “league” faction. His strengths are his background in basic economics and his connection with people. He may be slightly more conservative than Xi when it comes to economic reforms or decentralization. He is also a protege of President Hu Jintao.
It is these two gentlemen and a revitalized political office that India will have to deal with in the years to come. The change in direction comes at a time when Indo-China relations are fast becoming perhaps the second most important bilateral partnership in the world, second only to US-China relations.
The so-called fifth generation of rulers marks a turning point in China’s modern history. Xi and Li represent the first generation of leaders born after the 1949 revolution that brought China under Maoism. The lingering bitterness of their personal experiences during the Cultural Revolution only further alienated them from communism. Mao himself never fully believed in Maoism, Deng Xiaoping abandoned it, Jiang Zemin cemented China’s high-growth free-market model, and Hu Jintao globalized its economy.
Thus, Xi and Li will inherit an essentially capitalist economy, communist only in name and political institutions.
They also come without any practical memory of the 1962 Sino-Indian War. For five decades, Chinese leaders have taken psychological advantage of their Indian counterparts from the humiliation their country inflicted on India in the Nehru War. . Indian leaders, too, had been unable to overcome the shame of this loss. Our policy towards China has always been overshadowed by this defining moment in the common history of the two countries.
As a result, we failed to engage China as much as we should have. We seem to think that a strategic ally should agree with us on all issues, happily abandon countries we don’t like, and generally behave like a lover. We sulk when our allies fail to live up to our expectations. In reality, the relationship between two countries is much less sexy. International alliances aim to find harmony among national interests, emphasize commonalities, and keep differences in abeyance until the environment becomes conducive to a solution.
Over the past five decades, China has done enough to show that it has no aggressive designs on India, but that we must come to the negotiating table to settle issues such as Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, China voluntarily returned the territory it captured in Arunachal Pradesh in the 1962 war and has not attempted to reclaim it, even though it has the military muscle to do so.
In Aksai Chin, the barren expanse that never belonged to India (read a compelling account of how this region was claimed by British India here), China has built a road to connect Tibet with Xinjiang. The reality is that we have neither a strong moral case nor the military might to claim it. Negotiation is our only chance.
India’s right-wing rhetoric portrays China as the country’s number one enemy. For the younger generation that likes to feed on chauvinism, that sounds appealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. But such a position has a way of justifying itself by inviting similar gestures from the “rival” country.
The denial of visas to Indian defense officials, the issuance of stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are all token gestures that only express China’s frustration at the reluctance of India to begin talks on substantive issues. These positions proved to be fleeting, and China quickly returned to normal. An Indian military delegation is currently in China to participate in joint operations.
These skirmishes are normal in any complex relationship. The United States and China engage in such bravado almost daily. They also have far more substantive disputes with each other than India has with China. But that hasn’t stopped them from working increasingly closely and forming a viable strategic partnership.
Xi and Li may be offering India’s last chance to undo the bitterness of the 20th century and form an enduring alliance with the superpower of tomorrow, China. For fifteen centuries, India and China were the most prosperous and friendliest nations in the world. It was the European colonial powers that drove a wedge between them.
With the burial of Maoism, China has overcome the past. Will India?