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President Xi Jinping’s travel to the Middle East

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Historically, the Silk Road was established during the Han dynasty, between 206 B.C and 220 A.D., after the long Chinese exploration of Southern and Western Asia which had started at least two thousand years before.

As the original myth of Eurasia’s foundation has it, it was in those areas – among nomadic and warring populations – that the Son of Heaven became, for the first time, a shepherd of sheep flocks, and escaped the wild beasts which wanted to kill him and then devour the whole Han dinasty.

President Xi Jinping, the new Son of Heaven, embodying positive forces both at political and mythical levels, followed again the Silk Road and hence returned to the Middle East, by visiting Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

This was meant to rebuild the original strategic projection of China’s First Red Empire – hence to make China regain its ancient role based on the philosophical principle of “All under Heaven”.

The visit to the three Middle East countries was paid by the CCP Secretary on January 19-22, 2016, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the mutual recognition between China and the Arab League.

Until 2015 Saudi Arabia was the most important China’s crude oil supplier – a position currently held by Russia as primary seller.

The travel to these three Arab and Islamic countries is the first visit paid by the CCP Secretary in 2016 and this makes us understand the special importance that Xi Jinping and his China attaches to the commercial, political and strategic relationship between China and Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

As is well-known, Xi Jinping’ strategic project is the new Silk Road, which he called “One Belt One Road”.

Xi Jinping’s project was made public in October 2013. It is divided into a maritime part and a land part, which will both connect China with Central and Western Asia, the Middle East and finally Europe.

To put it in a metaphor of the Taoist sages – and Mao Zedong was so – the void (of power) of the United States and of the European Union itself, completely devoid of a real foreign policy, will be “filled” by a link with China and Eurasia on the part of the Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic world.

In Asia, where it originates, the new Silk Road will be connected with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and with the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM).

After the globalization which was an Americanization, the Chinese-style globalization will prevail, which will unite all the losers of the first globalization by tying them at first to Eurasia and later to China itself.

Since the diplomatic recognition between Russia and Saudi Arabia in 1990, trade has increased by 230 times, up to 70 billion US dollars in 2014.

Currently, in Saudi Arabia, 160 Chinese companies operate not only in the oil sector but also in the logistics, transport and electronics sectors.

China wants to support the Arab world with a stimulus to the domestic production differentiation and the reduction of those economies’ oil dependence.

For China, the relationship with Saudi Arabia is the strategic link with the Sunni country closest to the United States which, however, does not want to be tied hand and foot to the United States.

Saudi Arabia has every interest in dealing with China so as to avoid having only North America as counterpart – a relationship and a situation which, devoid of any counterbalance, would obviously be less favourable to Saudi Arabia.

The most important project binding China and Saudi Arabia is the Yarseef refinery which is worth 10 billion US dollars, 62.5% of which funded by the Chinese Sinopec.

President Xi Jinping has defined Yanbu – the Red Sea port where the Yarseef refinery is located – as the regional point of arrival of the Silk Road and, at the same time, the axis of the new Saudi industrialization.

Another essential aspect of Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia is the idea of establishing, by 2017, a Free Trade Zone together with the Gulf Cooperation Council, another component of the “Silk Road” which, in these areas, connects its maritime way and its land stretch.

Later, in his visit to Egypt, the CCP Secretary followed up the themes already developed during the visit paid by the Egyptian President, Al Sisi, to Beijing in December 2014.

The idea is to implement a “comprehensive strategic partnership” based on 15 major projects, to the tune of 15 billion US dollars.

These projects are related to infrastructure and transport, considering that Cairo and the Egyptian coast will be the Mediterranean point of arrival of the new maritime Silk Road.

Other investments in the “comprehensive strategic partnership” regard the Egyptian energy sector while, during Xi Jinping’s visit, additional 21 new investment projects were defined with an additional soft loan to this country equal to 1.7 billion US dollars, managed by some Egyptian banks.

A geopolitical level, Xi Jinping’s attention is mainly focused on the Egyptian and Shi’ite region, with a probable mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia which has materialized during the Chinese leader’s visit.

This means that China fears the expansionism of the Isis/Daesh “Caliphate” and, above all, the return of hundreds of Uighur foreign fighters living in Xingkiang.

At diplomatic – and probably at operational – level, China has supported Egypt in its fight against the Qaedist jihadist area, at first, and later against the Caliphate jihadist aera in the Sinai. It will certainly distribute its investments across the Middle East, based on the each country’s ability to fight against the jihad.

If Europe and the West will not be able to support the new autonomous development of the Middle East – and we can currently perceive all their limits in this regard – this region will become – between Russia and China – the Southern and maritime part of Eurasia.

This will be the new Sino-Russian Heartland which will hegemonize the Mediterranean region and much of the “great European plain”, as the French philosopher Raymond Aron called it.

Another significant geopolitical sign is that Xi Jinping urged Al Sisi’s Egypt to participate, as observer, in the next G20 Summit to be held in Beijing next September.

The last Middle East country visited by the Chinese leader, was the Shi’ite and not Arab nation of Iran.

Xi Jinping was the first leader of a world power to visit Iran after the lifting of sanctions, to which the Chinese and Russian activity within the P5+1 contributed significantly.

It is a very important symbolic fact.

Certainly China has never taken the sanctions against Iran into account. In fact, as early as 2014, China has replaced Germany as first business partner of the Shi’ite country, with a bilateral turnover exceeding 70 billion US dollars.

Obviously Xi Jimping came to preserve the Chinese position reached in Iran, but also to support Iran in its strategic differentiating from Europe and NATO, as demonstrated by the open support he showed during some interviews in Iran for the presence of Shi’ite forces in Syria.

Unlike many naïve Western experts and the even more childish leaders of a gutless Europe believe, the Syrian issue is not the fight against a “tyrant” such as Bashar al-Assad so as to restore a very unlikely “democracy”.

In the Middle East democracy is imposed to make a country strategically “viable”, which means devoid of reactions to the operations carried out by other players on the field.

Therefore the real Syrian issue is the fight against those hegemonizing the Greater Middle East in the future.

It may be Turkey, which wants to conquer Syria’s vast Sunni area for its mad neo-Ottoman dream.

Or the Russian Federation along with Iran, which will annex the Shi’ite and Alawite Syria to the corridor stretching from Ukraine to the coast towards the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

Or finally Saudi Arabia, which wants to manage its own “Sunni and Wahhabi International” so as to dominate the whole Middle East region and its oil, without the constraints of OPEC, which is now a residual cartel.

Xi Jinping, however, proposes to Iran a greater Chinese presence in the local banking and financial sector, the building of seven fast railway lines to be connected, in the future, with the networks already existing in China and, of course, a greater Chinese presence in the Iranian oil and gas sector.

According to Chinese analysts, trade between China and Iran is expected to increase tenfold, up to reaching 700 billions a year by 2017.

Hence, considering all the actions undertaken in the three Middle East countries he visited late January, the core of Xi Jinping’s operation is the creation of a joint Free Trade Zone between the three countries with China’s support – a topic we have already raised at the beginning of this article.

This is a move intended to rebalance the free trade agreement between the United States and other 11 Pacific countries, as well as to fill Western Europe’s “void” throughout the Middle East.

China has reached the free trade agreement with all the six Persian Gulf countries, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

China wants to put enemy countries together so as to mediate in a credible way.

The agreement is supposed to be signed by the end of 2016.

Hence the “void” of the United States and of an ever weaker and inward-looking West, obsessed by the idea of “exporting democracy” or by a naïve, self-defeating and self-destructive “geopolitics of values”, is “filled” by a China exporting economic support, political influence and credible skills and abilities to mediate between all regional players.

China’s proposed One Belt One Road project, which is the geopolitical matrix of all Chinese operations in the Middle East, stems from the current leadership’s perception of a now unrenounceable geoeconomic power projection.

It also stems from China’s feeling to be geographically surrounded by confined and enclosed spaces, mountains and deserts which must be overcome so as to avoid the Middle Kingdom – which has a much greater production potential than its territory expresses – remaining blocked.

This is the contemporary version of the structural crisis between the evolution of production ratios and the growth of productive forces, which has always been fatal to Marxism applied in practice.

It is worth recalling that the “productive forces” are science and technology with their applications to the production process, namely the whole organization of work, while “the development of production ratios” regards the relations established by those participating in productive work, including those which are outside the actual production process, such as owners and shareholders.

Hence if the development of productive forces is expanded beyond a certain limit, its expansion is made at the expense of production ratios, as an increasing share of manpower is replaced or marginalized by new technologies.

It was the problem Stalin had to face shortly before his death. It was Mao’s demon from the Great Leap Forward onwards and it is currently the concept underlying the One Belt One Road project.

In other words, for Xi Jinping the issue lies in projecting productive forces outside China’s land and sea borders, so as to prevent its internal production ratios from being distorted up to jeopardizing the State and the Party.

Obviously the project of the new Silk Road is also a way for ensuring the security of the first Chinese loop, namely Central Asia’s, and freeing from dangerous opponents the Chinese secondary loop, stretching from the Greater Middle East to Western Europe.

The two geoeconomic processes to ensure security regard both the Earth and the Sea, two entities which, in the Western tradition synthesized by the philosopher Carl Schmitt, tend to be two opposing entities.

Hobbes’ Leviathan, the biblical sea monster epitomizing the future British thalassocracy, is opposed by Behemoth, the terrestrial State which enslaves its citizens.

It is the constant plot of Western political thought.

Furthermore the One Belt One Road project involves the Russian Federation which, after the different globalization to which the USSR and post-Maoist China were subjected, de facto unites the two countries that had radically changed the relationship between productive forces and production ratios in an anti-capitalist way.

The One Belt One Road line, or rather lines, starts from Xi’an – the former capital of 13 dynasties, where there is the Mausoleum of the Qin Emperor Shi Huang, the first unifier of China, and his famous “terracotta warriors”.

It must never be forgotten that the Chinese universe, today as in its earliest stages, lives on symbols it uses in a way we can define apotropaic both for the unity of “all-under Heaven” and against external enemies.

From Xi’an – with connections to Beijing, Zhanjiang and Shanghai – the terrestrial route reaches up to Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, and hence the area characterized by a strong Islamic presence where the Turkmen arrived following their expansion eastwards, which was also a return to the origins.

The previously mentioned city of Zhanjiang, the old Fort Bayard until 1946, is the capital city of the Guangdong Province and a very active port, the future geopolitical axis of the new China-led “Indochinese Union”, which will obviously be very different from the one favored by French occupiers from 1899 until 1946.

From Urumqi, the Silk Road terrestrial route reaches Almaty, the old Alma-Ata of the Soviet era, which is the oldest and most populous city of Kazakhstan, the former capital city until 1993.

The new “Silk Road” will then directly reach Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s oil axis, up to Tehran.

The reasons for the particular interest currently shown by China in Shi’ite Iran are the following: it is an oil supplier needed for its continued development; it is an anti-jihadist rampart, as we can currently see in the role played by Iran’s paramilitary forces in Syria; for the China of the new Silk Road, it is the point of control over the whole region of the Greater Middle East.

China will never lift a finger against Saudi Arabia, which is peripheral compared to its new strategic axis, but it will play an essential role in stabilizing the infra-Islamic clash, which China sees as a direct threat to its oil and geopolitical interests.

A Middle East in flames destabilizes the Islamist Uighur minorities, blocks the large commercial networks being created and devastates the economies of New China’s primary buyers.

From Bishkek there will be a line connecting the terrestrial Silk Road with the maritime one. A transport line will link the Kirghizistan capital city to Gwadar, the Pakistani port located in the Balochistan province, an area already acquired by China.

Gwadar is China’s strategic sentinel toward the Strait of Hormuz.

From Tehran the One Road will reach directly Istanbul and will then deviate – again on a land route – towards Moscow, the real military and political pivot of current China vis-à-vis the Eurasian peninsula.

All “Eurasist” theories and approaches which currently inspire Russia imply substantial unity between China and Russia, with a view to preserving Eurasia and its hegemony over current Europe.

This is the theoretical and operational foundation of Russia’s presence in Syria.

In Syria, Russia wants: a) to block any kind of US and its allies’ hegemony in the Middle East; b) to ensure its presence in the Mediterranean region, which will become a military, economic and political presence; c) to impose its hegemony over an area where there are no longer global players, with the gradual withdrawal of the United States and NATO.

The very recent Munich agreement, regardless of its duration, is the reaffirmation and certification of the special role played by Russia in the region, while temporarily enabling the United States and its allies to save face.

From Moscow, the new Silk Road will reach Rotterdam and, southwards, up to Venice, the city which, thanks to Marco Polo, is associated with the West’s new discovery of China.

As already seen, the Chinese maritime Silk Road will start from Zhangjian, and will reach Jakarta, through Kuala Lumpur, in the Straits of Malacca which are the jugular vein of international maritime trade. It will then head to Colombo, in the ancient island of Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – and northwards to Kolkata, the ancient Calcutta.

From both Eastern ports, the maritime Silk Road will reach Nairobi and then, through the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, it will reach the Suez Canal up to Athens.

Hence this is the meaning of Xi Jinping’s current visit to Cairo, the Eastern closing point of the maritime Silk Road and the military closure of the Middle East instability area.

From Athens to Venice, the two Belts will reconnect.

A “Taoist” geopolitical project: the two natural opposites oppose and merge because they are both “the Way.”

Moreover, in the Middle East, China (and Russia) are completely rethinking their relations with Israel.

In the Jewish state, China seeks advanced technologies and, in fact, in mid-December last year the two countries signed a treaty for the co-financing of some advanced research.

The Chinese banks are now strongly present in the funding of many Israeli projects, as was the case of China CreditEase with the Hapoalim Bank.

Obviously this new link between Israel and China stems from a choice of the Israeli leadership that now sees minimized its relations with the European Union, which is increasingly heading towards dangerous anti-Semitism, as well as its relations with the United States, which are now de facto abandoning the Middle East.

The geopolitical and military alternative option for the United States will be a new cold war with the Russian Federation, a true strategic nonsense which, however, will serve to preserve the old “political-military complex” of which even President Eisenhower feared the choices.

Keeping Europe ever more irrelevant at strategic level and often ridiculous in foreign policy, so as to contain Russia and then China, is the US project, which will be followed also by Barack Obama’ successor, irrespective of his/her political complexion.

It is worth noting that this new North American stance is not at all in contrast with the great project One Belt One Road which, as you can easily understand, is designed to support some countries, namely the less close to the United States, and exclude the others, namely those which are more traditionally in line with the North American Grand Strategy.

In all likelihood, Israel will be a de facto point of arrival of the maritime-terrestrial “Silk Road” while, in the future – once stabilized the Syrian chaos – China will propose itself as a credible mediator and broker between the Jewish State and the Islamic countries.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Russia and the end of North Korea’s Tong-mi bong-nam strategy

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North Korea’s decades old strategy of ‘Tong-mi bong-nam’ (Engage the United States, Block South Korea) and its rare variant ( ‘Tong-nam bong-mi’ or Engage South Korea, Block the US) of breaking the Washington-Seoul axis by alternatively cooperating with one in order to isolate the other so as to manoeuvre its way through it has seen a shift recently as Pyongyang moves closer to Russia.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since the election of the conservative President Yoon Seok-youl, who has adopted a “Kill Chain” strategy to preemptively target the Kim regime in the face of an imminent nuclear threat. Cooperation has been restricted to calls for reunion of families across the border along with disarmament linked “audacious”  economic aid in order to denuclearise Pyongyang, which stands at the cusp of its worst economic crisis post the pandemic. However, surprisingly, North Korea has not only rejected the offer but has declared itself a nuclear state by adopting a law which rules out the possibility of denuclearisation by allowing Pyongyang to conduct preemptive strikes to protect itself. With a possible nuclear test on the cards, the Russian hand behind such bold moves cannot be overlooked.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has emboldened North Korea in more ways than one: it has not only challenged the invincibility of the Western powers whom Pyongyang defines as “hostile” but has also created demands for North Korean weaponry for a sanction pressed Russia to continue the war, promising to fill Pyongyang’s coffers with much needed foreign reserves. While North Korea has denied these claims, its increased proximity with Moscow is too conspicuous to gloss over. The most significant consequence however has been a change in North Korea’s policy towards Seoul and Washington.

Efficiently using it to challenge Seoul’s participation in any peace negotiations since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, the strategy of Tong-mi bong-nam was employed again in 1994 when faced with recurrent famines and massive food shortages, Pyongyang agreed to denuclearise under the Agreed Framework and eventually normalise its relationship with the US. The idea was to extract economic aid while isolating Seoul after tensions soared over the latter not sending official condolences on Kim il-Sung’s death. 

The strategy was reversed in South’s favour  when relations with Washington soured after it imposed a fresh series of sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation programme in April 1998 and North Korea positively responded to Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy which resulted in the historic June 15 summit of 2000, where the  the leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time post the division in 1945. President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” comment further worsened US-North Korean ties which led Pyongyang to not only break off contacts with both the US and South Korea but also withdraw from the NPT in January 2003. Although South Korean efforts and North Korea’s mounting economic crisis  succeeded in bringing Pyongyang to the Six Party Talks where Seoul argued that North’s security concerns be taken into account before pushing for denuclearisation, Washington’s rigid stance that North Korea denuclearises first  resulted in a stalemate. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 inviting more stringent sanctions and eventually withdrew from the Six Party talks in 2009. After successive conservative governments which favoured a hard stance towards North Korea virtually stalled negotiations, President Moon Jae-in’s friendly approach resulted in a major breakthrough in Inter-Korean relations in the form of the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration which called for phased disarmament, at a time when Pyongyang’s economy was at its lowest in the past two decades and tensions with the Trump administration soared high. The breakdown of the 2019 Hanoi Summit between North Korea and the US finally ended cooperation.

The above cases illustrate how efficiently North Korea has used Tong-mi bong-nam as a manoeuvring tool where negotiations were undertaken only during times of economic crisis while nuclear proliferation continued to remain a priority to achieve  reunification of the peninsula in a way favourable to Pyongyang. Moreover, Kim Jong-un has learnt from the case of Gadaffi’s Libya that engaging the West in denuclearisation would only provide limited respite while possession of nuclear weapons not only creates a strong deterrence against attacks by much powerful adversaries but also fuels nuclear nationalism thus reproducing regime legitimacy even at its weakest moments. Hence, he has nipped all chances of achieving complete denuclearisation in the bud. While China has so far played a major role in moderating Pyongyang’s aggression by prioritising regional stability considering its own geopolitical and economic interests over countering the US; Russia’s bold violation of UNSC sanctions by not only trading with Pyongyang but also demonstrating active interest in  employing North Korean workers and labelling the bilateral relationship as being of “mutual interest” speaks volumes about the greater latitude it is willing to provide its anti-American ally in pressing forward with its agenda.

Though Tong-mi bong-nam has served North Korea’s interests by aiding it in extracting economic benefits while dodging commitments over complete denuclearisation, it has simultaneously acted as the only window for Seoul and Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang. As its raison d’être, namely North’s economic and diplomatic isolation, wanes with Moscow’s support; the hope for denuclearisation might be lost forever specifically as the US and South Korea continue to  seek “overwhelming” military response to resolve the crisis which might lead to unimaginably dangerous consequences. The need of the hour is to multilaterally engage with both Russia and North Korea on disarmament and lift sanctions in a phased manner while ensuring that the two abide by their commitments.

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The SCO seeks for a new role in the post-Ukrainian crisis world

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During the Samarkand summit which was held during September 15-16, the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) signed the landmark Samarkand Declaration, advanced Iran’s accession, start the process for Belarus to become a full member, while approving Bahrain, Maldives, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Myanmar as dialogue partners. Additionally, the SCO issued groundbreaking statements and documents, marking the first time that member states have jointly spoken out on emerging issues, such as climate change, supply chain security and international energy security. All of these progresses verify that the SCO has come of the age over the past two decades. There is no question that the SCO is now the largest regional cooperation organization in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives in its member states, accounting for about 25% of the global GDP—and those states have a powerful intellectual and technological potential and a considerable part of the global natural resources.

As one of the two leading drivers of the SCO, Russia has played the tremendous role in its development and solidarity of all member states in principle and in reality as well. This year, despite the Ukrainian war drags on for over 200 days, Russia still acted influentially to promote Iran’s “earliest possible accession” to the SCO legally and Belarus’s beginning the accession process. As President Putin said during the summit, “There are many more countries that seek membership in or association with the SCO. All are welcomed because the SCO is a “non-bloc association and rather working with the whole world.” It is also true that in a very complicated international situation, the SCO is not “marking time,” but rather continuing to develop and build its role in addressing international and regional issues—maintaining peace and stability “throughout the vast Eurasian space.”

Echoing the coming changes in global politics and the economy which are about to undergo fundamental and irreversible changes, it is obvious that there are new “centers of power” emerging, and the interaction among them is inclusively based on universally recognized principles of the rule of international law and the UN Charter, namely, equal and indivisible security and respect for each other’s sovereignty, national values and interests. Given this, this article aims to argue what role the SCO would be able to play in the next twenty years?

The SCO holds tremendous potential for the future of international community and particularly in the fields of ensuring energy security and food security. Accordingly, the latest joint statement proposes to avoid excessive fluctuations in the prices of international bulk commodities in the energy sector, ensure the safety and stability of international food and energy resources’ transportation channels, and to smooth the international production and supply chain. To insure these ends, the statement also underlines adherence to the principle of technology neutrality as it is the key to encourage the research and application of various clean and low-carbon energy technologies. Given this, the Samarkand summit is a milestone both in the development of the SCO and building of a SCO community with shared future. Accordingly, the SCO will adhere to the principle of not targeting third parties as the Final Declaration states that the SCO seeks to ensure peace, security and stability. In reality, SCO members intend to jointly further develop cooperation in politics and security, trade, economy, finance and investments, cultural and humanitarian relations “in order to build a peaceful, safe, prosperous and environmentally friendly planet Earth.”

In the overall terms, China has played the significant role in joint promoting of the SCO as Russia admitted that in unison with the Chinese side, the existence of a unipolar world is impossible. Moscow and Beijing have agreed that it’s an impossible situation when the wealthy West is claiming the right to invent rules in economy, in politics and the right to impose its will on other countries. The foundation of the unipolar system has started to seriously creak and wobble. A new reality is emerging. Now it is more apparent that the obsolete unipolar model is being superseded by a new world order based on the fundamental principles of justice, equality, and the recognition of the right of each nation and state to its sovereign path of development. Put it more precisely, strong political and economic centers acting as a driving force of this irreversible process are being shaped in the Asia Pacific region.

Echoing the consensus among the SCO member states and their partners in the Eurasian domain, President Xi spoke at the summit that the successful experience of the SCO has been based on political trust, win-win cooperation, equality between nations, openness and inclusiveness, and equity and justice. They are not only the source of strength for the development of the SCO but also the fundamental guide that must be followed strictly in the years to come. Given that under the volatile world, the SCO, as an important constructive force in international and regional affairs, should keep itself well-positioned in the face of changing international dynamics, constantly enhance strategic independence, consolidate and deepen solidarity and cooperation, and build a closer SCO community with a shared future.

More specifically, China has not only presented the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, but also carried out the initiatives with real actions. In addition, the SCO greets the new round of the largest expansion of the SCO membership has consolidated its status and influence as the most populous regional cooperation organization with the vastest territory in the world. The expansion fully demonstrates that the SCO is not a closed and exclusive “small clique” but an open, inclusive “big family”. As a new type of international organization comprising 26 countries, the SCO is increasingly showing strong vitality and bright prospects for development including that it will inject new impetus into peace and prosperity in Eurasia and beyond and play an exemplary role in building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

In sum, the SCO has gained greater significance with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, where an economically weaker Russia is turning to East in general and China in particular as Beijing and Moscow vow to be a partner with no limits and leading coordination over the SCO. In addition, the comprehensive strategic partnership of China and Russia covers a bilateral agenda, multilateral trade and economic cooperation and shared security concerns of all concerned. In the face of outrageous Western sanctions, the SCO demonstrates stability, continues to develop progressively, and gains momentum. China is sure to play the constructive role of promoting their business to the global level, including strengthening the basis of economic cooperation among SCO member states, allowing the launch of free economic zones, and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects globally.

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Factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party: From Mao to Now

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With the crucial 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set to commence on October 16, here’s a look at the different factions that have historically existed within the Party, otherwise considered a highly centralised and monolithic organisation.

Democratic Centralism

Described by Lenin as “freedom of discussion, unity of action”, Democratic Centralism is a Marxist-Leninist theoretical concept which attempts to strike a balance between inner Party democracy and organisational unity as an assurance that decisions could be efficiently made without stifling ideological struggles within the Party which emerge in the form of dissent. It was first specifically adopted as the organising principle of a Marxist party in the Soviet Union by both Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)  at their separate conferences in 1905 and was unanimously adopted at the Party Unity Congress in 1906. Initially seen to be compatible with the existence of factions, a more rigid idea of Democratic Centralism was adopted at the 10th Party Congress in 1921 when all factions were outlawed in the name of Party unity. While the intention was not to wipe out the democratic discourse altogether, ‘monolithic unity’ vertically imposed by the late 1920s supplanted all free debate.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) at its 17th Congress in 1934  defined the four cardinal points of Democratic Centralism as follows:

election of all leading bodies of the Party; their periodic accountability to their respective organisations; strict party discipline &  the subordination of the minority to the majority and decisions of higher bodies to be absolutely binding on lower bodies and on party members.

 In other words, free debate and discussion would be allowed to exist within the ranks of the Party till a decision is taken by the higher body after which it must be faithfully followed and implemented by all lower ranks in the name of Party discipline  without any collective attempts to block the decision. Factionalism thus, came to be seen as a serious offense of sabotaging Party unity. The Third Communist International (1919-43) called for  Democratic Centralism to be strictly implemented by all fellow Communist parties across the world which continued even after its dissolution in 1943.

The Chinese Communist Party, through the  slogan ‘Centralism based on Democracy and Democracy Under Centralist Guidance’ (《民主基础上的集中,集中知道下的民主》), describes its role as focused on the inclusion of popular opinion which is considered  extremely important not just for the successful implementation of its policies but also as the raison d’être of its rule however concurrently, it considers them too vague to be implemented as they exist. The CCP thus sees itself as the central sieve through which mass opinions would be filtered off their vagueness and effective policies could be formulated as it is considered to be in best possession of both the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism and interests of the masses. Party cadres would go to the masses and raise their demands at the Party meetings followed by a debate, also known as the Mass Line approach. Once the decision is taken, there would be no further discussion and the cadres would faithfully implement the policies among the populace with iron discipline.

After a brief period of decentralisation post the 1978 Reform and Opening up, Centralism was reintroduced following the Tiananmen Square Movement of 1989 and more so after the fall of the USSR in 1991 in order to avert a possible legitimacy crisis. Since then streams of Centralism and Democracy have alternatively dominated leadership views. In his speech at the 17th Party Congress, Hu Jintao emphasised on the need to strengthen intra Party democracy as a part of Democratic Centralism. In contrast, Xi Jinping in 2016 emphasised on the need to integrate centralisation on a democratic basis while urging the members to display “pure and utmost” loyalty to the Party.

Guanxi (关系)

Though Articles 3(5) and  10 of the CCP Constitution  prohibit factionalism within the Party in the name of Democratic Centralism, interest groups nevertheless exist through informal networks based on  personal ties called Guanxi (关系). Guanxi has its roots in the Confucian tradition which emphasises on the feeling of belongingness among members of a family or an organisation. Such a  nexus functions in a reciprocal way where the followers look for career security and advancement under the protection of a senior leader who ensures their interests are served in the upper rungs in exchange for their support, for instance, Hu Jintao was known to have led a group of his comrades from his Communist Youth League (CYL) days  called Tuanpai (团派) in his entourage. While in itself testifying the presence of factionalism, this relationship often results in emergence of factions due to its unstable nature. All chosen successors to the General Secretary in the Party’s history have been purged by their own patrons (Mao and Deng) with the sole exception of Deng Xiaoping’s protégé, Jiang Zemin. Inconsistent leadership decision making, with opinions swinging between “Left adventurism” and “Right opportunism” under Mao and “Emancipation of Mind” and “Socialist Spiritual Civilisation” under Deng too has given rise to interest groups within the Party.

Other features of China’s political system which give rise to factionalism include  power entrusted to individual leaders in a hierarchical context; the monopoly of the Communist Party over all legal channels of expression of diverse interests; absence of a formal structure of decision making and interference of the military in politics.

Factions at a glance

The origins of Guanxi networks can be traced back to Shantou (山头)or “mountain top” alliances which date back to the Party’s early days. Facing a hostile Nationalist Party (国民党) and Japanese forces, the CCP was nurtured in independent and isolated rural basecamps which were often located in rugged hilly terrain. Thus, each Shantou became a locus of its leader’s power.  The hostile and dangerous conditions necessitated a close bond between leaders and their followers which fragmented member’s loyalty towards the CCP as a Party as the primary allegiance was paid to the leader and not to the organisation.

Though Mao in his On Contradiction (1937) defined intra Party differences and discussions as a symbol of its vitality and liveliness, he was very strict about expression of dissent outside the Party apparatus which was seen as an attempt to break away from the Party and resulted almost always in purges. Even as Mao successfully established his line of thought as the single ideological core of the Party during the Yenan Rectification Campaign of 1942, ground realities built conditions for the existence of factions which continued as external channels of communication among political associates, outlets of their diverse interests and command system of their forces. Informal Factionalism continued to drive the Party’s inner politics even after the victory in the Civil War in 1949. While Mao could establish himself as the Chairman, his sole legitimacy to rule still faced challenges since all his associates had comparable experience and contribution to enlist. As a result, though working under Mao, leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai continued to remain influential in a system where they were not expected to do so. Cautious of not upsetting Mao,these leaders often collaborated amongst themselves to weather any crisis which Mao read as a threat to his own power and hence, he launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as an anti-organisation movement so as to tie all strands of loyalty to himself and not the Party where other leaders still exercised influence.

Interestingly, a penchant for a similar policy did not always translate into unity among members, the classic example being the fallout between Liu Shaoqi and Mao Zedong who did not just share policy preferences on most issues but had also joined the Party at the same time and worked together. Similarly, both Lin Biao and the Gang of Four (四人帮) were on the same page in the trajectory of the revolution but it was the power struggle amongst them which ultimately led to Lin’s fall. During Deng’s regime, Chen Yun and Peng Zhen’s shared conservativeness did not prevent Chen from blocking Peng’s path to the Politburo Standing Committee. Both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were reform minded but Zhao held his silence when Hu was ousted. Similarly, it was on the basis of personal networks that Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun remained the most powerful leaders throughout their lives without holding any official position. 

The economic reforms of the post Mao period further split internal unity into those who continued to stick with the Maoist line, demanding strict obedience to the socialist model of development and those who believed in inching closer to an open, market oriented economy. Economic interests thus play a major role in guiding factionalism, with the emergence of a ‘Petroleum faction’ within the CCP of those associated with the crude oil industry being a noticeable example.

Common political origins have also formed a ground for development of factions. Like Hu’s Tuanpai, Jiang Zemin was known to promote those who had worked for him previously in the Shanghai administration which led to the rise of a “Shanghai Clique” when he ascended the top position. Xi is similarly known to be leading a  “Fujian Clique” as his ascension to power was soon followed by the promotion of his former associates Wang Xiaohong and Deng Weiping to senior positions. He has also promoted his protégés from his home province of Shaanxi. Xi is not only known to secure the interests of “Princelings” (太子党 or children of high ranking Communist leaders as himself) but to also further promote a “Tsinghua Faction” of his alma mater which is known to have existed since 2008 when 1 of the 7 members of the Politburo Standing Committee and 3 of the 25 members of the Politburo were alumni of the prestigious Tsinghua University. Xi Jinping has also actively promoted leaders such as Ma Xingrui and Zhang Qingwei from the Defense-Aerospace industry (军工航天系) to top civilian positions. Perhaps the starkest episode of factionalism within the CCP was the fall of Bo Xilai, Xi’s contender to the position of the General Secretary in 2012, which not just revealed the fault lines within the Party but also brought into question the fragmented loyalty of the military as many senior PLA officers closely associated with Bo such as Zhou Yongkang were found to have actively aided him in securing the most coveted position and were later tried and arrested for charges of corruption and abuse of power.

With speculations high that Xi is likely to evade the “seven up, eight down” (七上,八下) rule which restricts reappointments of senior leaders above the age of 68 and  the retirement of Li Keqiang as the Premier, groups such as the CYL faction are likely to be further marginalised while the prominence of those close to Xi Jinping is bound to prevail at the upcoming Party Congress which might result in the likely promotion of leaders like Chen Min’er and Ding Xuexiang. 

Factionalism within the CCP does not just stand as the testimony of the dynamics in Chinese politics but also provides a window into the otherwise opaque world of its functioning.

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