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Sino-Indian tensions

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China and India- the world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of global humanity. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense.

They share a border, have fought a bitter war and continue to compete for geopolitical supremacy in the region. Political ambitions and distrust on either side have sometimes been at the cost of better economic sense.

Both have a long and chequered history dating back thousands of years. The two neighbours fought a short border war in 1962 and since then, although much water has flowed down the Yangtze, a sense of mistrust has consistently dogged their bilateral ties. Both are shy of each other.

On the positive side, India has been cooperating with China in many areas. It was one of the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Besides, India and China are part of the BRICS, along with Brazil, Russia and South Africa. They have also teamed up at global forums on climate change to resist demands from developed nations to agree to binding emission cuts. China and India, however, fear that agreeing to binding emission cuts would force them to jettison their ambitious growth targets.

New Delhi is loath to take on Beijing directly. This is seen in the recent case of India cancelling the visa issued earlier to a Uighur activist, Dolkun Isa, the Executive Committee Chairman of the World Uyghur Congress to attend a conference in India. The granting of the visa to the Uighur activist was seen as New Delhi’s riposte to being snubbed by Beijing on the Masood Azhar issue. t has shown that New Delhi is wary of upsetting Beijing, especially given its enormous clout at international forums as a permanent Security Council member and NSG entry- both China has blocked.

India and China jointly occupy parts of Jammu Kashmir along with Pakistan. India now asks Pakistan to vacate and hand over Azad Kashmir to India but it has not asked China also do the same. The reason is obvious. In fact, it was Pakistan which always demanded Kashmir region from Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir while India refused to budge and in order to retain Kashmir India even fought war with Pakistan, leading to the creation of LOC. India first acquired nukes followed later by Pakistan, further complicating the tensed situation in the region and bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

A UN veto member China is possibly the largest global economy while as largest South Asian regional economy India tries to somehow catch the distance. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. There is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors in 2014.

Tensions

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

India thinks it should be on the UNSC with veto handle to control the world and is annoyed that China has not supported India’s pitch for permanent membership of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) and is the only one of the P5 members trying to stymie India’s bid. Sparks flew when in the days leading up to India’s second round of nuclear tests in May 1998, the then Indian defence minister George Fernandes, termed Beijing as India’s “potential enemy No 1” worse than Pakistan or USA.

The stumbling blocks between India and China are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader living in India newly sworn in PM Modi invited to his inauguration in 2014. Then there are other issues too working against any credible ties to which NSG issue has been added last year to sustain the bilateral tensions. India seeks membership of NSG without signing the NPT. USA just pretends as a “terror victim” and strategic partner against terror wars, it promotes Indian interests in nuclear domains.

In recent years there have been attempts to mend and strengthen the relationship through bilateral visits from both heads of state. And while Indian manufacturers, like their counterparts elsewhere, complain about inexpensive Chinese products flooding the market, Indian consumers are lapping up everything from cheap Chinese phones and toys to clothes made in China.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

Fruitless effort

Narendra Modi made his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India in May 2014. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store first Chinese pilgrim to India in 7th Century Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India.

Much before he became India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi was already a self-professed admirer of China. “China and its people have a special place in my heart,” Modi said in 2011 while he was on his fourth visit to the country as the Gujarat chief minister. “I admire their hard working, disciplined and resilient nature and above all, their sense of history.”

So, after he took control of the government in New Delhi last May, Modi wasted little time to try and strengthen ties with Beijing. Within days of taking office, he promptly invited Chinese president Xi Jinping to India. But by the time Xi arrived in September, the tricky nature of the India-China relationship was in full display: The Chinese president conducted a state visit in India while troops from both countries squared off in Ladakh.

Though relations between these two Asian behemoths warmed up in the aftermath of the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in September 2014 and the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China in May 2015, the relations have once again hurtled downhill as they pursue their respective foreign policy agendas. Mutual trips by Indo-China leaders therefore have not been able to improve the tensed relations.

Through the “Maritime Silk Road” initiative, China has been trying to reach out to countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives, right in India’s immediate neighborhood. Besides, of late, relations between China and Nepal have warmed up, particularly in the aftermath of the visit to Beijing by the Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. Although China has asked India to be part of the Maritime Silk Road, New Delhi is in two minds over whether to join owing to the suspicion of India and other nations. Moreover, China put a “technical hold” over India’s attempts to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as a terrorist since New Delhi views him to be the mastermind behind a host of terror attacks in India, with the most recent being the Pathankot terror attacks in early January this year.

China accused Modi of “playing little tricks” over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China and went on to criticize the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their corrupt democracy, as well as “the inferiority of India’s ordinary people.”

Political economy

China is India’s largest trading partner and like with many other countries, this relationship too is imbalanced. Trade between the two countries has been expanding annually at 15 percent since 2007. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $70.4bn last year with India reeling under a huge trade deficit of $52.67bn. Unfortunately for India, so has its trade deficit with China. In the financial year 2016 that ended March 31, India exported a little over $9 billion worth of goods to China, while it imported goods worth $61.7 billion, taking the trade deficit to a whopping $52.7 billion. Therefore trade experts said India’s dependence on China for export oriented growth is limited.

India mainly exports raw materials to China such as cotton and copper and as the Chinese economy rebalances to become more consumer led, there will be a further fall in exports. This is evident from the 2015-2016 figures that show Indian exports to China fell by over 24 percent.. China is a huge market for Ayurvedic and agro products and IT services India is eager to expand there in a big way.

The bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. When President Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. As Xi was in India, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Over the past 13 years, 142 Chinese companies have invested a total of $27 billion in India in sectors such as automotive parts and consumer electronics, according to CII. Top Chinese companies investing in India include Huawei Telecommunications, ZTE, Alibaba and Xiaomi. During the same period, 139 Indian companies have invested $12 billion in China, largely in the software and Information technology (IT) services sector. Many small manufacturers are sourcing products as diverse as firecrackers and religious idols from China. During Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China, 24 agreements worth $22 billion were signed between Indian and Chinese companies to finance and invest in projects across sectors.

Meanwhile, China’s relations with its “all-weather friend” Pakistan are at an all-time high, with Beijing announcing that it will invest $46bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province with the port of Gwadar in Pakistan.

Large Indian firms have traditionally been more interested in looking for mergers and acquisition in the West rather than investing in China. Dependence on China to fund the budget deficit is far more limited compared to some global peers. India’s total external borrowing as of the end of 2015 stood at $480 billion and the share of sovereign debt was just 19 percent with the rest made up of commercial borrowings and nonresident Indian deposits, according to government data.

Tourism is an area of cooperation and many Buddhists from China come to India while visiting the birthplace in neighboring Nepal of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the religion.

American link

The relations between China and India are worsening rapidly as India supports US pivot in Asia against China. Unless the situation changes dramatically, the two countries could even go through armed conflict against each other. It would be no strange thing if this really happens, because they really went through armed conflict due to Sino-Indian border dispute in the early 1960s.

Part of the reason for the growing bonhomie between India and the USA is China’s growing belligerence. India and the USA say they have a common interest in ensuring the safety and security of the sea lanes of communication in the Indo-Pacific region which was reflected in the joint statement released by the two sides during the visit of the US President Barack Obama to India in January last year.

And under Modi, India has slowly, but surely, moved away from its traditional stance of non-alignment to multi-alignment. He has given a vigorous push to India’s “Act-East Policy” which aims at improving India’s ties with its neighbours in Southeast and East Asia. His first visit outside the Indian subcontinent after taking charge was to Japan, which has seen frayed ties with Beijing, of late.

The US-India Joint Statement notes that they “affirm the importance of safe-guarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”

Chinese leadership advocates free trade, while US President-elect Donald Trump and his team appear committed to carrying out an economic policy based on protectionism. Trump has repeatedly blamed free trade agreements for damaging the US economy. The US president-elect has announced that he will withdraw from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Trump and any other country intent on pursuing protectionism against such policies in a speech at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. He compared such efforts to attempts to “divert a river into lakes and creeks” and said that it was not possible.

China will be hit the hardest if countries hide behind trade barriers and if globalization is seen as the root cause of all evil. While the shadow of a credit bubble looms large over its economy, China, driven by a low-wage, enormous workforce, has become the global factory for low-cost products which it badly needs to market. It must have noted Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric with horror.

Observation

The reason behind such confrontation between the two countries is not complicated. First, their disputed borders are the major cause of tensions between them. They even had a war against each other 50 years ago, but failed to make any progress on the border dispute. Besides, the gap between the positions of China and India over Tibet is wide. While China sees Tibet as one of its local governments, India sees it as a government in exile.

Other reasons such as China’s expanding footprint in Nepal and its ambition to keep Southeast Asia under its control are also driving the bilateral relationship to the gate of armed conflict. Perhaps, the relations between the two countries should pass the crisis in order to find a string of efforts for normalization.

The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved. Yes, not just that. In order to facilitate the bilateral ties on a large scale, India has to solve the Kashmir issue as Kashmir nation lies between India and China.

China’s has opposed India’s entry into the 48-member grouping, which is one of the irritants in Sino-India ties. China on January 16 warned India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) cannot be a “farewell gift” to the outgoing US President Barack Obama. Beijing’s reaction came after US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal of Indian origin described China as an “outlier” in the process of letting India joining the nuclear trade bloc. “Regarding India’s application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, regarding non-NPT countries admission to the NSG, we have made our position clear before so I will not repeat it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said here. “I just want to point out that NSG membership shall not be some kind of farewell gift for countries to give to each other,” Hua said, obliquely referring to Obama who will be succeeded by Donald J. Trump. The US government, under Obama, has strongly backed India’s membership in the NSG, which regulates the global nuclear trade. Beijing objects to New Delhi’s inclusion in the bloc, citing rules that India’s non-signatory status to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

While it is unlikely that India will be a part of any Western-led attempts to bandwagon against Beijing any time soon, it also wants to ensure that Beijing does not seize the initiative in India’s backyard.

Of course, China is also preparing for the worst. According to military sources in Beijing, China has deployed more troop along the India border, showing off its will to respond immediately if the worst really happens.

India cannot take the foreign cricketers and badminton or other sports/entertainments coming to play joint sport exercises as a victory for foreign policy, after all, they come to play for money and they are trained to do exactly what the sponsors expect and the mafias want. Don’t the English cricketers now do exactly what Indian sponsors and government agencies want? Governments promote their sportsmen also to be top billionaires by all possible means.

India requires prudence and pragmatism in dealing with countries with different economic and political systems, like China and Pakistan, while core media in the country should shed extra elements of arrogance and over confidence.

East Asia

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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