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CPC’s Long March to Dominate Global Capitalism

Atul Bhardwaj (atul.bhardwaj@city.ac.uk) is honorary research fellow in the Department of International Politics at the City, University of London.

Will China Dominate the 21st Century? by Jonathan Fenby, Cambridge, UK and Malden, USA: Polity Press, 2017 (Second Edition); pp 141, £9.99 (pb)/£40 (hb).

China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof of the World by Bertil Lintner, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018; pp xxviii + 321, 675.

The “rise of China” has taken a pause. The Chinese economy is sluggish. The Belt and Road Initiative is confronted with major problems. The China–United States (US) trade war is at its peak. Hong Kong is on the boil. Xinjiang is in the news for negative reasons. Aksai Chin is back in the Indian geopolitical discourse. The prophecy that the “great wall” will eventually crumble under the weight of democracy may not be as far-fetched as it had appeared a few years ago. The crucial question is: How will China behave in times of crisis? Will the Communist Party of China (CPC) seek war to prevent its probable disintegration or will it use diplomacy to emerge out of the quagmire?

The two books, by Western journalists, under discussion here deal with the twin issues of democratisation and disintegration of the CPC. Jonathan Fenby’s Will China Dominate the 21st Century? deals with contemporary China and expects the democratic discontent to soon seep through the ever enlarging fissures in the CPC. Bertil Lintner’s China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof of the World delves into history to inform that when faced with internal crisis, the CPC is likely to resort to war.

In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger courted Beijing with a hope that Chinese integration into the capitalist supply chain will eventually lead its elite on the path of democracy. Beijing obliged Kissinger by whole-heartedly adopting capitalism and free-market economic reforms, but refused to budge on the question of introducing democratic reforms. While the Ford Foundation and the World Bank were successful in luring the Chinese elite to join the liberal international order, the “elite knowledge networks” (Parmar 2019) through which the corporate foundations operate in China are yet to achieve similar success in convincing the CPC elite to introduce radical political reforms.

In the initial years of re-engagement with China, the American elite ignored China’s democracy deficit and focused more on economic reforms. However, after the 2008 economic meltdown, the Americans were no longer satisfied with the CPC controlling the second biggest economy in the world. The American elite, who celebrated the Chinese success story as the victory of capitalism, now feel threatened by the fact that Beijing may replace Washington as the centre of gravity of the global political economy, and the CPC may get into a position to determine the rhythms of global capitalism.

The relative decline in the power of the US empire has led its dominant classes to question the policy of wooing China. They are now driven by a desire to “Congage” China—to try to simultaneously contain and engage—to maintain it in a subordinate position, a “responsible stakeholder” (Huo and Parmar 2019: 2). Therefore, more questions are being asked in the US about the efficacy of Kissinger’s strategy of letting China bloom economically without demanding it to prune authoritarianism.

A Western View

Fenby, the former editor of the South China Morning Post, has joined a long list of Western and Asian commentators anxiously waiting for the CPC to collapse and a new and, perhaps, more chaotic China to emerge. He relies on the growing inequalities and imbalances in the Chinese society and an economy to conclude that the CPC will not survive long enough to celebrate the centenary of the communist revolution in 2049. Fenby is equally confident that the American empire will survive and China will never be the number-one country in the world.

Fenby anticipates the fragmentation of the CPC because of its corrupt and authoritarian character. In a typically Western journalistic style, Fenby blames Beijing’s national museum for manipulating history and depicting the communist victory in mainland China as an inevitable process. He also objects to China’s treatment of Mao Zedong as the father of the nation.

Fenby is on a weak wicket here because tampering and rewriting history for political gains is not the sole preserve of the authoritarian rulers; democracies are equally skilled at distorting histories. The American museums remain reticent about the fact that barbaric and brutal attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitute war crimes. Similarly, museums in Britain that proudly display their colonial booty maintain reticence on the atrocities committed by the British empire. The British eulogise Winston Churchill for his heroism during the war, but never tell their students as to how his decisions created the 1943 Bengal famine in which scores of Indians died. It is for this reason that one finds that Fenby’s arguments are polemical.

Corruption, inequality, and the blatant misuse of taxpayers’ money for the selective bailout of “too-big-to-fail” corporations and banks have resulted in the rise of right-wing populism in the transatlantic world, without really dislodging the Western capitalist order. However, Fenby expects inequality and fiscal mismanagement to lead to the overthrow of the CPC. What Fenby ignores is that the current Chinese authoritarian-populist regime is much in tune with the global political trends. Moreover, since its inception, the CPC has been more nationalistic than communist, with a good record on the populism front. The Chinese government is attempting to manage the growing discontent through state-controlled and state-funded civil society movements, legal forums, and social media for people to express their grievances and anger against the inefficiencies of their local authorities, without, of course, challenging the CPC’s rule.

However, Fenby correctly assesses that currently China is capable of shaking, but not shaping the world order. This is largely because, despite Beijing’s economic power, which has given it substantial leverage among key business communities across the world, it is still not in a position to dominate the policy and politics in the countries where it is investing heavily. China is still a novice in creating elite knowledge networks and in manipulating the “soft” processes of “elite socialisation and alliance-building” (Parmar 2019: 536).

China is probably at a stage where the US was in the beginning of the 20th century, when it wanted to influence politics in British colonies, but was unable to penetrate the existing elite networks operated by the British empire. Lamenting against American support to Indian freedom fighters, Lord Curzon wrote in the North American Review,

It is notorious that in recent years a propaganda has been initiated in the United States, deliberate in its character, wide in its range and sometimes not too scrupulous in its instruments, for misrepresenting and belittling the work of Great Britain in India. (Curzon 1910: 5)

Fenby liberally identifies China as a “revisionist power.” He is perturbed that the Chinese dominance of the world will lead to the spread of their culture and values. Like the majority of Western scholars, Fenby fails to explain as to how the Chinese culture and value system would be detrimental to the well-being of the world. What difference would it make if the Anglo–American dominance of the world is replaced by the Chinese empire? What difference will it make if the world was to celebrate Chinese New Year instead of Christmas as the
international festival?

Fenby’s predictions of democratic turmoil in China are coming true in Hong Kong, if not in the mainland. Massive protests in Hong Kong have shown that its people dislike the CPC’s rule in their province. As of now, the CPC continues to be safe. However, one factor that could fast erode its credibility is the possible loss of territory or defeat in a war, just as the Russian defeat in the Russo–Japanese war of 1905 had triggered a revolt against the Czar and changed Russian history. The American elite along with its regional allies are waiting to grab every opportunity to exploit the CPC’s vulnerabilities to undermine its legitimacy to rule China. Interestingly, in such a scenario, war becomes an important instrument for those who wish the CPC to crumble, and equally for those who desire to see it grow. As Akio Takahara, one of Japan’s leading scholars on China, says,

If you talk to the Chinese people, they’ll tell you that this [system of government] cannot last forever. So someday there will be a big change, but they don’t know when, they don’t know how, or what the process will be. (Ward 2018)

The question is: When faced with increasing external pressure, isolation, and inner-party revolt, will the CPC, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, use ultra-nationalism and resort to war to divert the nation’s focus towards an external enemy? Currently, there is no dearth of nationalist rhetoric in China, yet one needs to look into contemporary Chinese history to seek insights into the way Xi Jinping may confront a challenge to his leadership.

Limited War and Domestic Politics

Lintner—a Swedish journalist with varied and vast experience of internal and external security issues in Asia, a keen observer of the Sino–Indian dynamics, and formerly the Burma (Myanmar) correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review—gives us one example from contemporary Chinese history in his book, where Mao resorted to war in order to quell internal revolt against his leadership.

His book meanders across many issues, from Chinese links to insurgency in India’s North East, Maoism in Central India, the merger of Sikkim in India, and India’s policy vis-à-vis Bhutan and Myanmar. However, the main thrust of Lintner’s book is that Mao used force in the border dispute with India due to his dwindling political ratings within the CPC, resulting from the failure of his policy of the “great leap forward.” The second reason that Lintner gives for China’s war on India is that Mao was instinctively aggressive because he was a communist. Lintner’s primary aim in writing the book is to present a counter narrative to Neville Maxwell’s assertion that India provoked the border war in 1962. However, his attempts to refute Maxwell are best described as vain.

Maxwell’s book, India’s China War—rooted in the Henderson Brooks–Bhagat report prepared by the Indian Army in the aftermath of the war—argues that India’s “forward policy,” the setting up of an Indian outpost at Dhola, acted as the trigger for Mao to abandon diplomacy and plan offensive action only in mid-October 1962. Lintner presents a counter-argument by stating that Beijing was keen for war and the decision was not taken in October, but a couple of years before.

The supporting evidence that Lintner presents in his book is weak, based on a single statement of Deng Xiaoping, made in the wake of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959, where he says, “When the time comes we will settle accounts with the [Indians].” Lintner conveniently conflates Chinese military preparedness in 1959 with Mao’s decision to “teach India a lesson” through war. Lintner highlights Chinese defence preparedness in the late 1950s to show that Beijing was set on using force against India. Lintner’s argument is devoid of objective assessment of the Cold War dynamics at play in the Sino–Indian relations in the mid-1950s.

He ignores the fact that by fomenting a rebellion in Tibet, US President Dwight D Eisenhower had left Mao with little option but to strengthen his intelligence network in Arunachal Pradesh, and beef up military infrastructure and logistics to save Tibet. Losing territory would have undermined not only Mao’s position as chairman, but also the political legitimacy enjoyed by the CPC to rule China.

The Chinese fears that the US would use India to penetrate Tibet were not unfounded. Besides the use of Indian airspace, as well as maintenance bases for US military flights, Kalimpong became the “command centre of the Tibetan revolt” (Kamath 1959: 26). In early April 1959, in a highly secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation, the Dalai Lama was brought to Bomdila, from where the Indian government officials chaperoned him to a safe haven in North India. This was accompanied by the internationalisation of human rights abuses in Tibet. At an unofficial level, India was involved in organising domestic and international public opinion for the Tibetan cause. In end-May 1959, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) organised an Afro–Asian convention in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on Tibet and set up an Afro–Asian committee that
arranged the appointment of an international commission of neutral countries to highlight human rights violations and destruction of monasteries in Tibet.

If China had started preparing for war in 1959, India did not lag behind either. Archival records reveal that, in the early 1960s, the activity in the military wing of the Indian embassy in the Us increased considerably. In 1960–61, the number of indents received from India by the embassy almost doubled in comparison to the previous year. The Master-General of Ordnance (MGO) sent 94 urgent indents. The total number of contracts entered by the MGO and other departments of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) during the year amounted to $1,621,974.53 (Bhardwaj 2019: 141). The Research and Development establishment of the MoD asked Brigadier Harbhajan Singh, the military attaché, to send a list of the latest items and equipment developed by either civil firms in the US or the department of the US Army.

In 1961, the Air Headquarters, Delhi, sought detailed information on the operational capacities and costs of 14 different types of aircraft from the air attaché, Group Captain I H Latif. In the same year, four additional Bell 47–G.3 aircrafts were purchased for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The air attaché negotiated for the acquisition of a Jet-Pak installation for the C-119 aircraft. During the period, a technical team of the IAF also visited various US Air Force (USAF) bases to report on operation and servicing of the Curtis Wright R-3550 engines installed on the C-119 aircraft in view of the increased number of cases of failure of these engines in India. The naval wing of the military attaché’s office was also activated with the appointment of Captain J Cursethji in December 1961 (Bhardwaj 2019: 141). These facts refute the all-pervasive popular narratives in India, which claim that Krishna Menon, then India’s defence minister, ignored defence preparedness.

The growing Indian enthusiasm for the American weapons in the early 1960s comes out in B K Nehru’s (then India’s ambassador to the US) autobiography where he mentions his luncheon meeting in London with Lieutenant General B M Kaul (then Chief of the General Staff) and T N Kaul (then Indian high commissioner at London) in 1961, almost one year before the outbreak of the 1962 war. The conversations revolved around tensions in India–China relations, where, according to B K Nehru, General Kaul requested him, “Please, please arrange to get American military aid so that we [India] can defend ourselves,” because he felt that “we were soon to come into military conflict with the Chinese,” due to India’s “forward policy” (Nehru 1997: 385). On reaching Washington, DC, B K Nehru met George McGhee, a Texan oil magnate and US diplomat, at the Chevy Chase club and told him

When, as seemed likely, the conflict started and we were forced to retreat, we would soon run to the United States for immediate military help. (Nehru 1997: 385)

This autobiographic nugget, coupled with archival material, suggests that India was expecting hostilities to break out and were not caught off guard by the Chinese.

There was a sudden downward slide in China–India relations after the Dalai Lama’s escape from Lhasa to India. The probability of war increased and both sides started preparing for it. Therefore, Lintner’s analysis that singles out China as the culprit for 1962 is flawed.

Lintner has ignored the role of the dominant classes in India in pushing the government and its people towards war and in signalling to Mao that India was willing to back its boundary claims with force. Leaving aside a few communists, almost the entire political class in India—the Congress Socialist Group, Praja Socialist Party, Jan Sangh, and the majority in the Congress party—was sympathetic to the cause of Tibetan freedom and the American involvement in it. JP was one of the key figures in India who directly engaged with the Americans on the Tibet issue. He was associated with “The Committee of One Million: Against the Admission of China to the United Nations,” a New York-based organisation formed in 1953 (Griffith 1977). One of the leading figures of the organisation was Jay Lovestone, an American communist of the 1920s who later turned into a CIA operative and managed labour movements across the world during the Cold War. Incidentally, Lovestone was JP’s ideological mentor when he was studying in the US in the 1920s (Bhardwaj 2019: 70). JP was linked to American and other Western organisations engaged in managing Tibetan refugees and the Dalai Lama’s stay in India. He was a member of the New York-based Tibetan Foundation that funded the rehabilitation of Tibetans in India, and the chairman of the Dalai Lama Charitable Trust in Calcutta.

Another aspect missing in Lintner’s work is the efforts undertaken by the Chinese to settle the border problem through an east–west swap proposal in 1960 (Raghavan 2015). The Indian government rejected the proposal because the all-pervasive nationalist rhetoric left no room for Nehru to manoeuvre during his negotiations with Zhou Enlai. An objective analysis of the 1962 war indicates that India was confident of pushing ahead on the border because it did not expect China to retaliate, and it felt that both the US and Soviet Union were with it.

In Conclusion

Fenby’s and Lintner’s books have come at a time when President Donald Trump’s China policy has become more aggressive and India–US bonds have strengthened. Both the books aid the “othering” of China in Indian minds. Fenby’s book attempts to reinforce China’s image as an authoritarian giant that needs to be tamed by the West and its allies, like India. With continuous bombardment of such images, the Indian mind is likely to regress into the late 1950s, when we pushed hard to place China as our foremost enemy. The high patriotic fever generated in the country brought a frivolous war to our doorsteps in times of poor economic health. Whether China will suffer political calamity due to the much-vaunted dismantling of the CPC remains a matter of conjecture. However, what is almost certain is that the US will neither abandon China nor allow it to bloom at will. India–China ties will continue to be plagued by mutual fears and distrust.

References

Bhardwaj, Atul (2019): India-America Relations (1942–62): Rooted in Liberal International Order, Routledge: London.

Curzon, Lord (1910): “British Rule in India, I,” North American Review, Vol 192, No 656, pp 1–13.

Griffith, Robert (1977): Review of the Committee of One Million: ‘China Lobby’ Politics, 1953–1971, Stanley D Bachrack, Journal of American History, Vol 64, No 2, pp 489–90.

Huo, Shuhong and Inderjeet Parmar (2019): “‘A New Type of Great Power Relationship’? Gramsci, Kautsky and the Role of the Ford Foundation’s Transformational Elite Knowledge Networks in China,” Review of International Political Economy, 27 June, pp 24.

Kamath, H V (1959): Communist China Colonizes Tibet, Invades India, Praja Socialist Party, New Delhi.

Nehru, B K (1997): Nice Guys Finish Second, New Delhi: Viking.

Parmar, Inderjeet (2019): “Transnational Elite Knowledge Networks: Managing American Hegemony in Turbulent Times,” Security Studies, Vol 28, No 3, pp 532–56.

Raghavan, Srinath (2015): “A Missed Opportunity? The Nehru-Zhou Enlai Summit of 1960,” NMML Occasional Paper: History and Society New Series, 74, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi.

Ward, Alex (2018): “Everyone Warns of China’s Rise. But Its Decline Could Be Even Worse,” Vox, 12 December, https://www.vox.com/world/2018/12/12/18137363/china-rise-decline-usa-xi-....

Updated On : 18th Nov, 2019

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