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Ice Silk Road: From Dream to reality

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Authors: Mahdi Torabi*, Vahid Pourtajrishi

The history of Silk Road backs to thousands years ago. The aim of creation of this route was linking China to Europe through Middle East. Growth of Chinese enterprises and industries which was started since middle of 20th century increased the significance of expanding the link routes between China and Europe following expansion of China’s export to West. Silk Road seems to be the main option in such condition as an ancient route which has been designed and created for this purpose.

But the main existing problem on this way was existinglimitation on capability of the classic Silk Road for transportation of high volume of freight from China to Europe.

In fact, the issue of increase this capability was the essence of Xi Jinping’s initiation of his “One Road One Belt” Doctrine which was declared by him as one of the significant elements of Chinese foreign policy.

According to the Xi Jinping’s defined policy for the new Silk Road, this route has to be expanded to some new routes on the ground and sea.  But it has to be mentioned that China has not been the only state who follows Jinping’s policy toward Silk Road. Many of other states, especially those who are located on China – Europe rote try to increase role on this high interesting route.

Through these states, we can point to Turkey and Russia as the most important ones who have shown their will to participate highly in this project.

Turkey introduced its Baku – Tbilisi – Kars (BTK) Corridor to create a new Silk Road which connects Istanbul to China by passing Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Ankara’s initiation in introducing a new combined route was a revolution in the regional and intercontinental transport orders.

But beside of all defined merits for this route, some disadvantages like high cost of transport or existence of not suitable weather conditions for move of ships through Caspian Sea on winter. That’s why;relating released reports on establishment of BTK by Turkey and its partners created a shock among experts in international transportation.

While many of experts recognized this route as the last alternative for the classic Silk Road, Russia could come over its geographical problems with sea ices of Arctic to establish Northern Sea Route or Ice Silk Road which was just an inaccessible dream for Moscow till few years ago.

Passing through Arctic that is fully covered with at least 150cm diameter pieces of ice might was just like a joke or far dream before end of Cold War and there was no strong logic behind of such assumption.

By start of the Cold War and fast growth of the nuclear technology in 60s to 90s, we can say that development of many nuclear related technologies like construction of reactors, enrichment and producing nuclear armament in one hand andexpansion of maritime industries especially in military section got in force by USSR.

But the main reasons for focus of Moscow on Arctic back to significance of natural resources in this region which composed determinants and important part of USSR’s boundaries.

While latitude of Scandinavian states and Canada is closed to Arctic, but no one of these states has not been successful enough to use the potential opportunities of this region like Russia.

Since Vladimir Putin’s seize of power in 2000 and his plans for reconstruction of Russia’s economy, discover of new routes to access world markets was adopted on the agenda of the Russian government. Finding new costumers for the huge resources of oil and gas was one of the main attitudes of Russia in Moscow’s new economic planning. That’s why Russia began to expand and execution of its significant and mega plans in this regard like establishment of Turkish Stream gas pipeline.

Despite all adopted policy by Russian government, the main problem was Makinder’s concern in his theory of “Heartland” to access the warm water. According to Makinder, the only available link route between Russia and the southern warm water was Iran. That’s why; Russians always have been looking for a way to access free and warm waters by Iran.

But by achieved impressive growth of technology during past decades, it seems Russia has found a safer way to access free waters instead of Iran and that is use of its territorial waters of Arctic that is able to link this country to Europe on one hand and connects Russia to East and China from on the other hand.

As we know, required technology for using the Northern Sea in international transit of freight have always been in hands of Russia and US. But this route has never been as interesting one for US because of its easy access to the free waters on one hand and end of Cold War on the other hand. That’s why there has been not enough interest for US to invest much in expansion of international transit route from Arctic region. US has only one icebreaker in North Sea and Arctic that is built in 1976 and was used for costal patrol in this region during Cold War era.

We try to investigate the probable causes for establishment of the “Ice Silk Road” by Russia in the following:

Expansion of the oil fields of Arctic and oil export increase

Russia got succeedto transport its first oil cargo in 2017 from Hammerfest in Norway into BoryeongPort of South Korea successfully. This shipment was a 200 million dollars LNG cargo which was transported by “Cristophe de Margerie” tanker carrier within just 19 days. It means Russia got succeed to save the time for 30% rather using Suez Canal as the common path of this route.

Russia has invested in development and expansion of the gas field of “YamalPeninsula” more than 27 million dollars and China also has announced its readiness for investment in this mega project. It is worth mentioning that the order of development this project issued by Vladimir Putinpersonally and this demonstrates the level of priority and significance of this project for Moscow. Margarie ice breaker tanker could sliced the huge ices of Arctic with at least 120 cm thickness and passed Arctic within just six days. But it is clear that possibility of such shipment will get very harder during winter season and needs high-developed ice breakers. That’s why, Russia has decided to produce new generation of these ice breakers to remove this obstacle.

Following this policy, Dimitry Rogozin, the deputy of the Russia’s prime minister in his interview with TASS News Agency declared decision of his country to build three new nuclear ice breakers.  He said: “Rosatom [state civilian nuclear power corporation] has now been instructed as part of private and state partnership to think over the algorithm of financing three icebreakers rather than one and then we will make navigable the entire Northern Sea Route. We will be able to lead whatever vessels for any customer by transit through the Northern Sea Route: caravans with goods from Asia to Europe and we will be able to export our hydrocarbons in the form of liquefied natural gas not only to Europe but also to Southeast Asia,” Rogozin said in an interview with Rossiya-24 TV Channel, describing the plans of developing Russia’s icebreaker fleet.

“In 2019, we will commission [the shipyard’s] dry dock. Just imagine the dimensions: 484 meters long and 114 meters wide. Two aircraft carriers can be built there at a time,” the vice-premier said, describing the new shipyard.

Simultaneously, shipbuilders in northwest Russia are building three current-generation icebreakers: the Arktika, the Ural and the Sibir, Rogozin said.

Simultaneously, shipbuilders in northwest Russia are building three current-generation icebreakers: the Arktika, the Ural and the Sibir, Rogozin said.

According to the vice-premier, these icebreakers will be commissioned for operation in 2019-2021 and “will help ensure an all-out escort [of vessels] through the ice from Yamal Peninsula towards the West.”

“Yamal LNG Project” is under construction in Yamal Peninsula and is counted as the most significant maritime project of Russia in energy sector. This mega project includes 200 wells, one airport and 15 tankers (2016) which will be able to export at least 2 million cm liquid gas. According to experts, this amount will be increased to 50 million cm in a year (the Ministry of Roads and Urban development of Iran).

On the other hand, China is one of the most important strategic customers and trade partners of Russia especially in oil section. According to the experts and analysts of energy section, China will be the consumer of 17% of energy resources of the world till 2050. That’s why, if Russia increases the amount of its oil productions, Moscow would become the first oil partner of China instead of the Middle Eastern oil exporters like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran.

Transit of freight from China to West (the Ice Silk Road)

According to Dimitry Rogozin, transit of freight from Far East to West using Arctic and Northern Sea will be one the main aims of Russia to establish the North Sea Route. Export of the Russian productions into South East of Asia is one of the other significant aims of creating such route. As Rogozin declared, the new generation of the nuclear ice breakers will be able to carry two aircraft carriers. So the approximate area of the each mentioned freight carrier will be something around 55176 m2 and this dimension will be more than 5.5 hectares!

Furthermore, creation of the new route will be 25-55 percent shorter than the Suez Canal path which links China to Europe to each other.

It is worth to mention that one of the significant exports of Russia from this route will be the mineral extractions like gold, uranium and diamondin worth of more than five billion dollars.

Reduction of China’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil

China is one of the key players and investors in Yamal project and has invested more than 12 million dollars in this mega project. Except this, the Silk Road Fund has fulfilled 20% of the total project cost. But it has to be asked why China follows this project while Beijing fulfills its required oil from Middle East?

In fact, the energy market of Middle East and its stability is under doubt because of existing many problematic factors like anti – Iranian sanction, fire of war all over the region, the issue of illegal immigration of terrorist groups and etc. that’s why such market could not be counted as a stable and permanent energy market for China as the greatest industrial country of world.

So, it seems the Chinese officials have decided to find a more stable alternative to fulfill its energy needs instead of Middle East. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the existing strategic partnership between China and Russia in this way. Also, by creation of Ice Silk Road, it will be more logical for China to fulfill its required energy resources from Russia regarding the issue of short geographical distance between the two countries rather Middle East.

A the end, we have to say that creation of Ice Silk Road is minded as a game changer not only in foreign trade relations of Russia but also will be a revolution in international trade between East and West especially in aspect of trade corridors. It could affect highly on the both classic and new routes in Silk Road like the passing corridors from Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and many other states that have enjoyed their geo-economics privileges on this route.

*Mahdi Torabi is head of planning unit at department of the international affairs of the Railway of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Vahid Pourtajrishi is an expert at planning unit of the department of the international affairs of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has worked as journalist at correspondent of Mehr News Agency.

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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