Politics in Command in the Chinese Economy

At the heart of any communist political system is the Marxist emphasis on class struggle with the apparent objective of achieving the utopia of a society of perfect equality and free from want. But the class struggle itself and attempts to either promote it or to deal with it are the result of or depend on the economic conditions obtaining in the polity. It is, therefore, not without reason that Marxists and leaders of communist nations have a constant focus on the economy or on economic conditions, never mind the effectiveness of their prescriptions. 

China’s leaders have since the end of the Maoist era at least, not only been rather more careful than their counterparts in the former Soviet bloc countries in giving economic growth its due place, but also succeeded in shaping a successful economic model that has delivered decades of high rates of growth. They have understood the consequences of economic conditions for a country’s domestic politics and its international prospects better than most. 

Continue reading Politics in Command in the Chinese Economy

The Chinese Communist Party Turns 100

1. The Beginning: What was the historical context, in China and in the world, of the birth of the Chinese Communist Party?

The CCP was formed in the crucible of a China beset by domestic upheaval, economic backwardness and a floundering experiment with a democratic republic that followed the fall of the Qing Empire. It was obvious to Chinese intellectuals that their country’s imperial greatness was a thing of the past and the search for national revival saw multiple ideologies contend during this period. The newly minted Soviet Union was keen to have more support in the east and sent cadre – including at one point, the Indian revolutionary, MN Roy – to support the growth of Chinese communism. The CCP also views the 1919 May 4th student movement as a seminal influence on many of its founders. The students were protesting the Chinese government’s inability at the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I, to get Western imperial powers and Japan to give up their territories and privileges in China. With the students also seeking a complete cultural and political overhaul calling for the adoption of science and democracy in place of traditional values, the May Fourth movement has continued to find its echo throughout Communist China’s history down to the present.

2. Early Decades: What political and ideological imperatives guided Mao Zedong in the decades of the 50s and 60s? What did the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution achieve for Mao and the CCP?

Continue reading The Chinese Communist Party Turns 100

Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

The Indian government has a near perfect ground game in terms of messaging domestically on matters related to Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. And yet, ever since the standoffs with China began in early May, the government’s communications have been limited, confused, and confusing.

This is not to say that India’s military responses to either Pakistani or Chinese provocations – based on such information as is available in the open domain – has been wanting. In the case of the former, one could argue that even such an incident as Balakot where India attacked Pakistani territory, was calibrated well given that it did not lead to escalation. In the case of the Galwan Valley incident of 15 June, too, the official statement on the Prime Minister’s remarks at the All Party Meeting on 19 June quotes him saying, “that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland”.[1] This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side.[2] In dealing with a power like China with its superior military capabilities, that is as good as one can expect, and even something of a victory for India.

However, the question here for the Indian government is of communicating its position and version of events accurately both at home and abroad. The 19 June statement shows the Prime Minister prefacing his reference to the deaths of the soldiers by saying “that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.[3] In reality, this obscured more than it clarified. While the present tense suggested that he could technically be accurate insofar as the situation at the moment of his speaking was concerned, the Hindi version – ““न तो किसी ने हमारी सीमा में प्रवेश किया है, न ही किसी भी पोस्ट पर कब्जा किया गया है” na to kisi ne hamari seema main pravesh kiya hain, na hi kisi bhi post par kabza kiya gaya hain[4] – appeared to make a somewhat larger claim covering the entire period since confrontations started in May that neither had anyone entered Indian territory nor capturedany Indian posts.

Continue reading Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s Ramnath Goenka Lecture: Countering Dogma with Still More Dogma

Indian Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar’s Ramnath Goenka lecture earlier this month[1] has been hailed widely as something of a master class in the directions and principles of India’s foreign policy in the Modi era. It could well be that. But it is equally a masterful papering over the shortcomings of Indian foreign policymaking that neither the country’s political class nor its bureaucracy has managed to fix so far.

It is noteworthy that of the “five baskets of issues” which Jaishankar referred to as offering lessons about India’s past performance, there is no reference to the problems of lack of capacity within the government. It is something of a paradox that for the second-most populous country in the world, India has one of the smallest civil services anywhere and that it prefers to keep it that way alongside a general lack of interest in taking on ideas from outside the four walls of the government. Continue reading Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s Ramnath Goenka Lecture: Countering Dogma with Still More Dogma

China Worries in India’s RCEP Decision

India’s refusal to sign up for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in Bangkok earlier this month says as much about the state of India’s relations with China as it does about its place in the global trading regime.

There is no doubt that India is in many way not ready for the additional challenges and pain its domestic industry and agriculture will face with accession to RCEP especially since the economy is still recovering from the self-inflicted damage of demonetisation in 2016 and a poorly-executed roll-out of the GST less than a year later.

But there is not an insubstantial argument to be made about the consequences of opening up under RCEP to a Chinese economy that still is far from being an open market economy. Continue reading China Worries in India’s RCEP Decision

Vacuous Summitry

Following the Doklam stand-off between India and China in mid-2017, the Wuhan ‘informal summit’ between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping the following April was seen as some sort of a tension-busting exercise and hosannas were sung to a new kind of diplomacy with talk of a ‘reset’ in the relationship. In the run-up to the second informal summit to be held at Chennai tomorrow[1], however, the shallowness of the exercise is now evident especially in the security and political realms.

Even if one were to ignore the fact that it was not until yesterday that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs finally confirmed that the summit was even on, the level of mutual suspicion today appears to be no less than was the case following Doklam. Continue reading Vacuous Summitry

Chinese Reactions to India’s Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir

The change in status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir effected by the Indian central government has led to considerable international attention, including from China.

On 6 August, the Chinese Foreign Ministry offered two separate comments: one “on the Current Situation in Jammu Kashmir”[1] and another more specifically “on the Indian Government’s Announcement of the Establishment of the Ladakh Union Territory Which Involves Chinese Territory”.[2]

In the first statement, while China declares that it is “seriously concerned” it asks “both India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve the relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation” (emphasis mine). One should read this as the Chinese indicating they do not see it only as an Indian responsibility to “safeguard peace and stability in the region”[3], that Pakistan should not imagine it has sanction from Beijing to stoke military tensions in the wake of India’s actions. Continue reading Chinese Reactions to India’s Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir

Raising China as an Issue in Indian Elections

US Vice-President Mike Pence delivered a key speech on his country’s China policy early this month on 4 October 2018.[1] His speech drove home the message of the burgeoning challenge to American interests from China. Using specific examples, he pointed out how the Chinese sought to influence American domestic politics, stole American technology, and undermined other countries through debt-trap infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative.

Implications for India

Pence’s speech on China has also been read as being politically motivated given the November mid-term elections to the US Congress.[2] While this may be so, it also offers Indians an opportunity to think why their country’s foreign policy challenges from China do not form more of an issue at least during parliamentary elections. Continue reading Raising China as an Issue in Indian Elections

Chinese Defence Minister’s Visit: To What End for India?

Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe’s visit to India in late August is an occasion to consider the state of India-China military exchanges.

While military-to-military exchanges are important, there seems little to them in the India-China case beyond merely keeping up appearances. Gen. Wei’s visit was preceded by the late July visit of Gen. Liu Xiaowu, deputy commander of the Western Theater Command (WTC) with charge of the border with India and in mid-August, of the head of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, Lt Gen. Abhay Krishna.

Even the business of familiarization as is the case with these visits of theatre commanders does not mean much because they do not have any regular schedule and can be easily disrupted. Continue reading Chinese Defence Minister’s Visit: To What End for India?