2018 marks 40 years since China launched its economic reforms, and opening up that changed its domestic economic structure as well as set it on course to being the global economic giant it is today. Now, China’s significance in the global economy is not in question whether as an industrial producer, as a consumer of raw materials, or as a pioneer in pushing the frontiers of technology and its applications.
What has also been apparent since at least 2012 when Xi Jinping took over as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), if not earlier, is that China’s economic power is being put to political uses at both the regional and global levels. Somehow, the west, led by the US, appears not to have anticipated that the ‘rise of China’ would bring with it a challenge to not just western economic domination but also to American military might and perhaps, most importantly, to the very idea of democracy and other largely western political values and ideals.
A dynamic foreign policy Continue reading The Rising Chinese Challenge to Order and Politics Everywhere
A major political crisis is underway in Sri Lanka following President Maithripala Sirisena’s sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and finally the dissolution of parliament. There are now multiple petitions now pending before the country’s Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of Sirisena’s actions.
Meanwhile, if general elections were allowed, Rajapaksa’s chances of returning to power look good given that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party – which he formally joined just a few days ago – came out on top in local elections in February. 
During Rajapaksa’s tenure as President from 2005 to 2015, the Chinese had begun to gradually involve themselves in Sri Lankan politics. Continue reading Political Crisis in Sri Lanka: Little Risk for China
Imran Khan’s taking over as Prime Minister of Pakistan introduces several degrees of uncertainty in the China-Pakistan relationship given his past record of statements on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Khan has previously criticised the CPEC, if not the Chinese themselves, for favouring the bigger Pakistani provinces and ignoring the smaller ones such as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been in power since 2013. After his July election victory however, Khan spoke specifically about learning from China’s experiences in poverty alleviation and anti-corruption besides stating that CPEC provided an economic opportunity for his country. Of course, Khan was also dealing with the reality of a tougher US mood against Pakistan under the Donald Trump administration, leaving him rather heavily dependent on China and Saudi Arabia to have Pakistan’s back politically and economically.
Pakistan’s Incomplete Reform Agenda Continue reading Economic Complications in the Naya China-Pakistan Relationship
Today, the Chinese portray the 15th century voyages to the Indian Ocean by their admiral, Zheng He, as aimed at promoting diplomacy and trade. But the record shows that these were expeditionary voyages of the Ming dynasty navy that apart from making gifts to local leaders and religious and other institutions along the route also involved itself in local politics. In one case, in Sri Lanka, Zheng even effected a regime change.
History has been repeating itself after a fashion in the modern era with China throwing its support behind then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s in his fight against the LTTE, his economic development programmes and then his re-election effort in 2015. Following his loss, however, Beijing slowly made amends with his successor Maithripala Sirisena, and recently announced a ‘gift’ of US$295 million to be utilized for any project of the latter’s wish. Continue reading Beware of China Bearing Gifts
US President Richard Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in February 1972 could arguably be called the mother of all ‘resets’ of a major bilateral relationship. In his own words, it was ‘the week that… changed the world’ and there can be little disagreement on this score.
The ‘informal summit’ scheduled later this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province too, is being advertised as a key moment in the relationship.
What explains the timing of the summit and its motivations?
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
Continue reading Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Domestic Priorities Uppermost
What does the removal of term limits for the Xi Jinping presidency in China mean for the developing world and, in particular, for South Asia?
One possible effect could be a demonstration effect.
China’s decades-long rapid economic growth has long been a source of envy and inspiration for many countries in the developing world. Some like Vietnam, for instance, have used China as a model in launching its own opening up and reforms process. Other countries, including many in South Asia, have seen Beijing as an alternative to the West for financial resources and capital.
With Xi’s latest move, an ambitious autocrat can try and sell the idea to his people or the elites that matter that he, and he alone holds the solutions to a country’s problems.
And often, as in the case of President Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives, who has imposed a state of emergency in the island nation, they will do so with considerably less finesse than Xi.
More of the Same? Continue reading Xi for Life: Implications for India and South Asia
In practical terms, Wang Huning is to Xi Jinping what Amit Shah is to Narendra Modi. That comparison should help situate for Indian audiences Wang Huning’s importance in the Chinese political firmament somewhat. If Shah’s job is to help Modi do the electoral math and draw up strategies to win elections, it is Wang’s job to help create the narrative that legitimizes Xi Jinping in power in an authoritarian system.
If Modi and Shah have together turned a political party otherwise identified with religious extremism and vested business interests into one that appears to espouse a new work ethic in government and a vision of modernity based on new technologies – digital India, smart cities and the like – there has been a similar makeover underway in of the Communist Party of China (CPC) under Xi and Wang for much longer. Only in the Chinese case, it has been of trying to convey the image the CPC as not only the best thing to have ever happened to China but also as an exemplar for the rest of the world.
Wang has been speechwriter and ideologue to three successive General Secretaries of the CPC Continue reading Wang Huning: Xi Jinping’s Ideological Alter Ego
When China’s National People’s Congress – the rough equivalent of India’s Lok Sabha, but toothless – meets in the coming week it has to deal with a proposal by the ruling Communist Party of China to amend the state constitution to remove term limits for the President of the state. Coming from where it does, this is pretty much a direct order to the NPC to remove the term limits.
Removing term limits for the President, imposed in 1982, is a roundabout way of saying that the norm of two terms for the CPC General Secretary – Xi’s more powerful avatar – too, is not set in stone.
Indeed, term limits were imposed in the first place to signal to the Party that no leader should be able to continue indefinitely in power as Mao had much to the detriment of China and its people. Now, Xi appears to be seeking the removal of term limits with the opposite message – that China requires a strong leader capable of cleaning up corruption, modernizing the military, stabilizing the economy and standing up to aggressive neighbours and especially, to the United States.
Xi has sold his work in this regard over the five years of his first term as General Secretary as having been fairly successful. But since there is much still to do, the CPC seems to suggest he cannot be inconvenienced by such things as term limits. Surely, the Chinese people understand the great and historic moment of opportunity that they have to make China great again – under Xi’s direction, of course? Continue reading Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has suggested removing term limits for the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China. The immediate implication is that President Xi Jinping could conceivably continue for a third term or more in office. However, the more important one is that this sets a precedent for doing away with the norm of a two-term limit developed over the past couple of decades for the CPC General Secretary – the most powerful position Xi holds.
This development then appears to confirm long-standing speculation that Xi was aiming to carry on in power at the next CPC National Congress in 2022.
Other amendments to the PRC constitution being mooted by the CPC also confirm the possibility. One such is the addition of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ in the PRC Constitution. In this case, this is a foregone conclusion since Xi Jinping Thought was already included in the CPC constitution at the 19th Party National Congress last October.
To understand what exactly has happened and how, Indians need only remember how their own bureaucrats bend the rules or create new ones at will, if necessary – to push their own aggrandizement while in office or to comfortable post-retirement sinecures. Continue reading The ‘Emperor’ Has Feet of Clay