Like USA and Russia that have assumed Asia pivot to influence the continent, China also has its own Asia pivot but it also has South Asia pivot too trying to woo the nations to come under its new Silk route program nicknamed the ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ initiative.
China’s South Asia pivot is yielding fruits as it has been able to rope in maximum of the region: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are now the satellite countries of Beijing, leaving very little scope for India to manipulate or maneuver. Only one country that stays behind the military prowess of India is Bhutan which maintains economic relations with New Delhi as most of the food stuff and other manufactured goods is has come from India. Afghanistan has plenty of compulsions not to annoy economic power India that liberally releases funds for Kabul and also to bowl harmless balls to Indian military batboys for 100s and 50s.
Nepal is one of nations that benefits maximum from Chinese extra enthusiasm for recapturing the Old Silk Road for making itself the real super power and for this reason Katmandu is willing to annoy New Delhi, though it takes care not to strain the relations with India.
China and Nepal have agreed to start technical works to build a cross-border railway link via Tibet to boost connectivity. This was decided during the recent visit of Nepalese Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Beijing. “Both sides have agreed to move forward technical works relating to construction of Nepal-China cross-border railway line.
China has also developed close relations with Sri Lanka during the regime of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa whose nearly decade-long tenure was ended by Sirisena in 2015. Also, the USD 1.5 billion Chinese-funded Colombo Port City project had sparked off security concerns in India.
China already has strong ties with Pakistan and the two countries are working closely on developing the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The bilateral relation between Nepal and China has been friendly and is defined by the ‘Sino-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ signed on April 28, 1960 by the two countries. The government of Nepal, though initially unenthusiastic about its ties with People’s Republic of China, has been of late making efforts to increase trade and connectivity with China while also simultaneously trying to decrease its reliance on India.
The Araniko Highway that connects Kathmandu to Kodari and onwards to Tibet did not encourage dreams of multi-laned container traffic flowing down even before the 2015 earthquake. Post the quake, China closed the route after massive landslides in Tibet, leaving only one road that connects Kathmandu to Tibet – the Rasuwagadhi highway, built upon an old trade route that connected Nepal to Tibet via the Kerung pass. It was through this highway – still under construction in most sections in Nepal, and perhaps the most affected highway during the quake – that petroleum arrived in Kathmandu in 2015 during the infamous Indian blockade. It is also this highway that will connect Nepal to the much-flaunted Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI), with the Chinese interested in building Kathmandu itself.
Relations between Nepal and China got a boost when both countries solved all border disputes along China–Nepal border by signing the Sino-Nepal boundary agreement on March 21, 1960. The government of both Nepal and China ratified the border agreement treaty on October 5, 1961. From 1975 onward, Nepal has maintained a policy of balancing the competing influence of China and Nepal’s southern neighbour India, the only two neighbors of the Himalayan country after the annexation of the Kingdom of Sikkim by India in 1975. Since 1975, Sino-Nepal relations have been close and grown significantly with China being the largest source of FDI, while India still remains one of the major sources of remittance to Nepal. As per the estimate of Nepalese government, there are around 2-3 million Nepalese migrant workers in India while the number of Nepalis in China is minuscule (3,500 in Mainland and 15,950 in Hong Kong) as of 2017.
In the late 1970s after the annexation of Kingdom of Sikkim by India, King Birendra of Nepal proposed Nepal as a “zone of peace” between India and China and in the 1980s, Nepal began importing Chinese weaponry. When the United States, United Kingdom and India refused to supply arms to the regime of King Gyanendra of Nepal, who had assumed direct rule to suppress the Maoist insurgency during the Nepalese civil war (1996–2006), China responded by dispatching arms to Nepal, in spite of the ideological affinity of the Maoists with China.
After the peace process and national elections in Nepal in 2008, the new Maoist-led government announced its intentions to scrap Nepal’s 1950 treaty with India, indicating a stronger move towards closer ties with China. In 2007-08, China began construction of a 770-kilometre railway connecting the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with the Nepalese border town of Khasa, connecting Nepal to China’s wider national railway network In a meeting between Chinese and Nepalese officials on 25 April 2008, the Chinese delegation announced the intention to extend the Qingzang railway to Zhangmu (Nepali: Khasa) on the Nepalese border. Nepal had requested that the railway be extended to enable trade and tourism between the two nations. On the occasion of the Nepali premier’s visit to China it was reported that construction will be completed by 2020. The section Lhasa-Shigatse opened in August 2014.
China last year agreed to consider building a railway into Nepal and to start a feasibility study for a free trade agreement with landlocked Nepal, which has been trying to lessen its dependence on its other big neighbour India.
Belt and Road
Nepal also signed up to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative which is opposed by India as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Of late, India takes special interest about parts of Jammu Kashmir being controlled by Pakistan while does not want anyone to mention about its own occupied and heavily militarized and hence highly terrorized parts of Jammu Kashmir. As an ambitious South Asian power India is also engaged with both USA and Israel to jointly control the world, It has of late developed double speaks as well.
During the high-level talks in Beijing, Mahara had requested China to forward the work relating to preparation of a Detailed Project Report for the construction of inter-country railway line giving it high priority, it said. However, China’s state-run People’s Daily has claimed that during Mahara’s visit to China early this month a deal has been struck to establish the rail link. It said the rail link includes two lines: one connecting three of Nepal’s most important cities and two between China and Nepal.
The daily, however, did not identify the Nepalese cities. The Sino-Nepali railway, which passes through the Chinese border town of Zhangmu and connects with routes in Nepal, will be the first railway by which China enters South Asia, said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. “Although the railway connection between China and Nepal is intended to boost regional development and not for military purposes, the move will still probably irritate India,” he was quoted as saying by the daily – the ruling communist party’s official mouthpiece.
Prime Minister Prachanda today said Nepal was keen to be involved in the One Belt One Road project proposed by China and reiterated Nepal’s commitment to the One China policy during a meeting with Chinese Defence Minister here. General Chang Wanquan, who leads the 2.3-million-strong Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest, arrived here today with a 19-member delegation on a three-day goodwill visit at the invitation of Defence Minister Balkrishna Khand. Chang, the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal in 16 years, discussed with Prachanda bilateral military cooperation and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, an ambitious project viewed with suspicion by India.
Prachanda said Nepal was keen to be involved in the OBOR project, a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also reiterated Nepal’s commitment to the One China policy and said it would not tolerate any activity against Tibet and Taiwan. Prachanda also expressed his happiness over the cooperation that armies of Nepal and China have developed of late, the Prime Ministers Secretariat said in a statement after the meeting.
India has some concerns over the OBOR, which includes a maze of projects connecting China with Euro-Asia and is floated by Beijing as a connectivity and economic project. Thanking China for its support to Nepals economic development, Prachanda wished a complete success of Changs visit.
Prachanda is the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal after a gap of 16 years, which is a matter of pleasure for us,” said a senior official at the Defence Ministry. The visit comes ahead of the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawats four-day official visit to Nepal from March 28.
The Chinese defense ministers visit coincides with the first joint military exercise between the Nepal Army and the PLA scheduled later this year. Chang will receive a briefing on the joint exercise and also visit Nepal Army’s Kathmandu Valley unit. He called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari tomorrow and meet his Nepalese counterpart Balkrishna Khand and Nepal Army chief Rajendra Chhetri.
Chang and Nepalese officials discussed issues relating to bilateral military cooperation and proposed joint military exercise, according to officials.
The delegation accompanying Chang discussed the ideas floated last year by then Nepalese prime minister KP Sharma Oli during his visit to China. A possible support to Nepal Army from China was hinted at.
Prachanda visited China to take part in the Boao conference which is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries closer to their development goals. He said that the main objective of his visit to China will be to build confidence though there is no plan to sign any new agreement. Prachanda said he will hold high-level talks with Chinese officials during the visit, which will be instrumental in strengthening bilateral relations. He will also meet Xi.
Hours before flying to China, Prachanda held discussions about agenda of the visit with former prime ministers, former foreign ministers and foreign policy experts at his official residence.
With Nepal willingly joining the BRI, commentators in both Nepal and India have argued that the move signals Kathmandu’s willingness to move away from the Indian ‘sphere of influence’. With India and China now locked in a stand-off in Doklam, commentators are also asking what this means for smaller nations like Bhutan and Nepal to be in the midst of two clashing giants.
Sino-Nepalese military ties are growing stronger of late. Nepal and China today began their first-ever joint military exercise with a special focus on combating terror, amidst Beijing’s increasing forays into South Asia causing concern in India. The 10-day-long military drill “Sagarmatha Friendship 2017” that will last till April 25 is being organised by the two countries as part of their preparedness against terrorism that has posed as a serious security threat globally, the Nepal Army said. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name of Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak.
The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army’s squad arrived in the capital to participate in the military exercise that will focus on counter terrorism and disaster response. The joint training with China marks Nepal Army’s extension of military diplomacy. The Nepal Army has long been conducting joint military drills with Indian and American Army. “A small Chinese troop will be participating in the first ever drill with an equal number of Nepali Army personnel,” said military spokesman Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat. He did not mention the strength of the participating troops. The exercise will take place at the Army’s Maharajgunj-based Training School, where Yuddha Bhairab, Mahabir and Bhairabnath Battalions are located.
The Nepali Army has said the joint military exercise with China is a step towards preparations against the possible threat from terrorism.
It maintains that the drill is a part of its regular bilateral and multilateral military exercises aimed at sharing experiences, skills and professional knowledge which it has been doing regularly with the nations that Nepal shares diplomatic ties.
Nepal had proposed joint military exercises during Chinese Defence Minister General Chang Wanquans official visit to Nepal on March 24. Experts believe that the joint military exercise could make India uneasy as China attempts to exert influence in the region. Nepal, a landlocked country, is dependent on India for its imports.
Nepal has just come out of its two greatest crises namely natural crisis in the form of earthquake & constitutional crisis. Both the events have shaken the roots of Himalayan country. However, two events had contrastingly affected the India-Nepal relations. Cooperation & timely support during the earthquake proved India’s worth for Nepal & its irreplaceable geostrategic position. However, forming of new constitution & its implementation created a tense scenario between the two nations & overshadowed the Indian rescue efforts during earthquake.
In both the events China took advantage to deepen its ties with Nepal & put India on the strategically disadvantageous position, whereas, Nepal also seems to play the China card with India on India’s suggestions for the demands of Terai people and constitutional reforms i.e. for more representation of Terai people in parliament, provincial territory demarcations and issues related to citizenship rights.
In September 1961, King Mahendra had embarked on a 17-day state visit to China, where he was feted as an ‘esteemed friend of the Chinese people’. Mahendra had carried out his royal takeover the year before, and Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru was not happy with this new development.
Despite talks between Nehru and Mahendra, the Delhi-Kathmandu relationship continued to deteriorate under the face of cross-border attacks by the Nepali Congress rebels, and in September 1962, India imposed an “unofficial and undeclared economic blockade on Nepal” – but even as Mahendra began to get frantic and Kathmandu’s response turned ‘hysterical’ to the blockade, the Sino-Indian war began on October 20 that year.
China proposed the establishment of an economic corridor among the three countries to promote trilateral cooperation and common prosperity. Nepal can become a stage for mutually beneficial cooperation between China and India, rather than an arena for competition.
India poses to be a Big Brother in the region and refuses to make the region tension free by quickly resolving the Kashmir issue by surrendering them their sovereignty that would eventually herald a new peaceful and genuinely surrounding in the region. India needs to work to resolve the issues through diplomacy and mutual cooperation.
Indian blockade caused economic problems and social tensions problems as well as irritation in Nepal. Nepal had witnessed a shortage in essential supplies from India during the 2015 Madhesi blockade. China at that time had extended its help to Nepal to ease the situation.
India is treating South Asia and the Indian Ocean as its backyard with a hard-line manner and the way the Indian Pm Modi went around the region soon after his rise to power vindicates that impression. .
Now it is necessary to analyze the current situation whether growing proximity of China and Nepal is a real threat for India or it’s just an overemphasized perception and if it’s a new reality in triangular relations how India is going to be affected by it.
Nepalese nationalists in Nepal lauded the king for taking the country away from the Indian dependence. One can conclusively argue it was the 2015 blockade that turned Kathmandu towards Beijing.
China’s deepening economic ties in South Asia – set to be further strengthened through the “One Belt, One Road” initiative – would likely be followed by closer security ties as well, despite Delhi’s unease.
China hopes India can understand the pursuit of China and regional countries for common development, and be part of it. However, New Delhi doesn’t share this thinking, instead seeking to balance China and overtake it. If such tendencies in India continue, China may even fight back, because it cannot digest if its core interests are violated. “This is not what we hope for, but the ball is in India’s court,” so reads a Chinese the commentary.
Beijing warns India of action if its interests are threatened by New Delhi’s actions. China’s Defence Minister and People’s Liberation Army General Chang Wanquan made a rare visit to Sri Lanka and Nepal, and Chinese state media warned India that Beijing will “fight back” if Delhi interferes into China’s relations with South Asian countries.
Russia and the end of North Korea’s Tong-mi bong-nam strategy
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.
The SCO seeks for a new role in the post-Ukrainian crisis world
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.
Factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party: From Mao to Now
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.
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.
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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