The Chinese saying 'Due to Mao Zedong, we could stand up; thanks to Deng Xiaoping, we are getting rich' highlights China's two stages of growth

Global Center Stage By Vinod Saighal*

BRICS

The establishment of NDB, head-quartered in Shanghai, suggests international financial institutions should have been more flexible in accommodating the increased role of BRICS in the world. It is true that NDB took off exactly because it fits into China's grander New Silk Road or "One Belt, One Road" vision.

Xi Jinping is now in his third year as party General Secretary of the CCP, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and President of China. After Deng Xiaoping, he is the third maximum leader of China after Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Nobody before him, excluding Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, had been able to concentrate so much power in their hands as Xi Jinping. Both his immediate predecessors took some time to consolidate their positions, especially Hu Jintao who took over from Jiang Zemin. The reason for the time lag in consolidation of power was on account of the predecessors dragging their feet in handing over power after their tenure to try and position their own persons as members of the important Politburo as well as other key appointments, especially in the CMC; the reason being to maintain residual political power and to ensure the continuation of their policy as long as possible. It was also an exercise to ensure that family, close friends and associates of the leader handing over power were not targeted by the successor, so that the treatment meted out to Hu Yaobang and Zhou Zhiyang by Deng Xiaoping was not repeated. This fear continues to lurk and will not go away easily.

Chinese leaders since the time of Mao have developed a penchant for enunciating their policies in pithy three-word maxims or short phrases like the “Three Represents”. Deng Xiaoping, of course, during his southern sojourn made a unique contribution to China’s break from rigid state control of the economy by his famous maxim, “It is glorious to be rich”. Deng Xiaoping thereby laid the foundation for China’s rise as a world power. In less than a quarter century after Deng’s historic turn, China has overtaken the leading economies of the world to become a world power of the first rank, both economic and military. It has enabled Xi Jinping to unfurl his famous ‘Dream’ for the future of China.

Not only has Xi Jinping’s recently unfolded dream taken China further than many of his predecessor’s could think of, it has set alarm bells ringing in China’s neighborhood; starting from the Pacific Ocean, to East Asia, South China Sea and on to the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. Mr. Xi has been able to flesh out his dream very early in his tenure. To an extent the enabler can be said to have been Hu Jintao who had put China’s economy on a sound footing. Xi has concomitantly undertaken to push the development of Chinese military might. If there were any doubts as to where China was headed, these doubts should have been laid to rest by China’s latest defense paper and more so by the military parade held in early September 2015 in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat and capitulation. Since tomes have been written on China’s rising military power and the new weapon systems displayed to the world for the first time during the September military parade it is not being dwelled upon any further.

Mr. Xi has tried to match his country’s rising power in the world to push its outer limits by his OBOR (One Belt One Road) and the Maritime Silk Route initiatives. He has gone about consolidating his own personal power with equal speed and determination. At the end of his third year he does not feel inclined to always refer to the Politburo before taking major decisions. Nor does he feel constrained by the Politburo as a collectivity. Nobody before him after the Mao or the Deng eras has targeted the most powerful people of the earlier regimes with a sure-footedness and decisiveness that would appear unimaginable compared to the earlier periods. He has not spared the PLA either. His sacking of a large number of top PLA generals on corruption charges and commencement of prosecutions against them would have shaken the PLA to its roots, although there have hardly been any outbursts worth the name, at least that might have surfaced in the public domain. The near-total acquiescence could, on the face of it, be a sign of the total control exercised over all state security agencies or something more ominous manifesting itself in the future. So, where do all these lead Mr. Xi Jinping.

Although a princeling himself, who has used his (inherited) stature and power to go well beyond any of his predecessors in targeting enormously powerful opponents who had, in turn, consolidated power deep into the innards of their respective fiefdoms over long periods, he should know that at the end of the day even princelings can be dealt with. The case of Bo Xilai, the princeling and rival whom he felt obliged to displace and incarcerate, remains fresh in people’s minds. Bo Xilai who has been put away was believed in some quarters to have had much greater influence than Xi Jinping with China’s military top brass, many of whom were considered very close to him. It is difficult to know as to how many of them have been ousted in the recent shaking of the top generals. Whatever the case, both categories, those who were removed and face corruption charges and those who remain would be carrying their deep resentments with them.

Having concentrated absolute power at par with Mao and Deng according to many China watchers, it would not have been lost on Xi Jinping that embedded resentments at either end of spectrum, i.e. the top CCP power-wielders from an earlier period and powerful military generals puts Xi himself at considerable risk in the years ahead. That the Chinese people at large are impressed with his reforms and the zeal with which these have been pursued does not minimise the risk.

Seeing the speed with which he has consolidated power as the maximum leader of China and the manner in which this has been done, and is still being done, can leave no doubt that Xi Jinping has burned his bridges behind him. Looking ahead, when his tenure ends after seven years he will not like his predecessors be able to hand over power as smoothly, no matter how long he holds on to some of the powerful posts, and retire peacefully like Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, his two predecessors after Deng. By laying down a ten-year limit for each leader at the top, Deng was also doing away with the earlier practice of purging top leaders once they were dethroned. Deng would have known because of his fight-to-the-finish against the Gang of Four after the demise of Mao. Thereafter, he himself had purged Zhao Zhiyang, the general secretary of the CCP who had opposed him on the actions that Deng was contemplating against the students gathered at Tiananmen Square in the fateful early months of 1989, following the visit of the Russian President Gorbachev that had been handled masterfully by Zhao Zhiyang.

What emerges from the above analysis is that Xi Jinping is either not planning to hand over power tamely to his successors in the manner of Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao before him or he is planning to consolidate his hold to such a degree that he assumes a Deng Xiaoping-like stature and remains the dominant power figure for the rest of his life. In this he is hoping that he would by then have taken China to such heights in the world that his carefully cultivated Deng Xiaoping or even Mao-like stature would be analogous to that of Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore who continued to guide the destiny of his City State till the very end.



Go to Global Center Stage

Back to Top

Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

Search