Articles and Commentaries |
March 1, 2023

The Strategic Culture of China and the Era of Xi Jinping

Written By: Prof. Priyadarśī Mukherji

India and China had been having cultural exchanges since several centuries in a relatively peaceful manner simply because Tibet stood in between these two civilisations as a buffer zone.  Tibet played the role of a catalyst in bringing about a synergy between the two ancient Asian societies. Despite its geographic proximity with China, Tibet had evolved its distinct identity even before its coming in contact with Buddhism. The Tibetan empire built under King Songtsen Gampo (604-650) brought about geostrategic transformations in terms of its equation with China.  The king sent a scholar named Thonmi Sambhota to India in the 7th century CE in order to create a distinct script for the Tibetan language. The written language of Tibetan was constructed on the basis of Gupta script and the Sharda letterings (which is based on Brahmi script), that originated in India. With the advent of Buddhism in Tibet, its physical and spiritual contacts with India increased across the Himalayas. Historically speaking, since time immemorial, Tibet has been the immediate neighbour of India, maintaining an independent entity for centuries. In ancient times, China never ruled over Tibet.  In fact, in 763 CE, the Tibetan army under King Tri Songdetsen captured Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), the then capital of the Tang dynasty. Under the influence of Buddhism, Tibet transformed into a peaceful country, eventually becoming the purest repository of the Tantric Buddhist traditions. India maintained its contiguous borders with Tibet. China never shared its borders with India till Tibet stood obliterated from the world-map following the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Yet, India maintains its Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force along the northern borders.

In the light of the recent developments in the sphere of India-China relations, one might ponder why the bilateral ties have suddenly reached the nadir.  However, as a Sinologist and a pragmatist, I have never been surprised to witness such a deterioration since there has never been an ideal neighbourliness between India and China ever since the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) came to usurp the seat of power in mainland China. Negating history and wilfully seeking to extend its so-called imperial legacy is what the CPC pursued all around its neighbourhood. Its outright dictatorial domestic conduct, no doubt, has been extended to the domain of international relations as well, right from 1949. On the contrary, any move to extend imperial legacy has never been initiated by India unlike China despite India’s deep cultural influence—both tangible and intangible heritage—having extended up to Central Asia including the present-day Xinjiang in China, and significantly throughout South-East Asia. The antithesis in myriads of facets, philosophies, worldview etc. between the two countries of India and China have created an impasse in terms of good neighbourliness.

India under Nehru was overzealous in setting up an “Asian solidarity” with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Thus, India happened to be the first non-socialist country to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC on 01 April 1950.  By the end of that year, China invaded Tibet. Nehru meekly accepted China’s domination over Tibet.  The grand strategy of the CPC followed the age-old Han-Chinese stratagem of annexing the neighbouring regions of non-Chinese ethnicities. China has expanded its territories through centuries with mainly two objectives: One, to capture more resource-rich lands for their profit-oriented ventures towards generating wealth for China, and two, to build a buffer zone around the predominantly Han-Chinese habitats with non-Chinese territories in order to safeguard the Chinese population against any foreign aggression.

The CPC quite conveniently used its army, the so-called People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to dislodge the Tibetans from their own land and lay claim over all the regions that were considered having Tibetan cultural influence even along the Indo-Tibetan border. As the PLA had done in East Turkestan (renamed as Xinjiang), similarly, they moved this time to capture the world’s highest plateau—the Tibetan plateau— the source of all major rivers and water resources in Asia.  Thus, the PLA swiftly turned into a Perfidious Land-grab Army.

India, on the contrary, in its futile effort, repeatedly made mistakes by relying on China over myriads of agreements. The Indian consulates in Lhasa and Kashgar were closed down in early 1950s under hostile circumstances created by China. Yet, Nehru struck conciliatory posture and signed non-aggression pacts, including the Panchsheel, which China never followed in words or deeds. Indeed, it was India’s failure to secure for Tibet an honourable settlement in terms of sovereignty. Once the Indo-Tibetan border evaporated to become an illegal frontier between India and China, all the peaceful atmosphere across the Himalayas too vanished amidst an unending onslaught from China. Whether physical or cartographic aggression, China brandished brute force in order to extract maximum concessions from a submissive Indian side.

The CPC’s disdain for other countries was amply revealed in the daily propaganda of its mouthpiece, ‘People’s Daily’, since the very first day of its capturing power in China. The media focus was fully geared to portray China as the most ideal nation on earth while deliberately conducting a smearing campaign against all other countries.  It would be relevant to highlight in this context how historically China considered other ethnicities other than the Han-Chinese as barbarians. The non-Han Chinese ethnicities dwelling in the east of China were called Yi (夷).  They were often referred to as Eastern Barbarians, the non-Chinese tribe living around 2200 BCE.  The northern ethnic groups or the Northern Barbarians were called Di [pron. Tee] (狄).  The Southern Barbarians or savage tribes who lived along the southern fringes of China were called Man [pron. Maan] (蛮).  Ethnic groups in the northwestern regions of China, who were mainly from the Turkic culture, or from the Central Asian regions, were called Hu (胡). These were known as nomadic barbarians. Among the barbarians, an ethnic group of northeastern frontier of China, or those inhabiting the southeastern part of southern Mongolia were called Eastern Barbarians, or Donghu [pron. Tung-hu] (东胡).  The non-Chinese ‘man-eating barbarians’, called by the Chinese as aboriginal savage tribes, were named as Shengfan (生番).  One can fathom the degree of self-superiority complex of the Han-Chinese with their ostensible display of civilisational greatness. That complex is being carried on by the Chinese xenophobes and Sino-centric elements to this day even in their academic discourses. The ethnic minorities were time and again sought to be Sinicized and their culture and traditions were eventually assimilated by the Han-Chinese majority. The demographic composition of the non-Chinese regions have been deliberately altered by settling Han-Chinese and thus virtually obliterating the ethnic minorities in their own homeland, all in the name of ushering economic development but actually committing cultural genocide.

Winding the relations fast forward, we arrive at the doorstep of 1980s where we witness the economic reform drive in China under Deng Xiaoping. China embarked on becoming the factory of the world with its labor-intensive growth trajectory in order to capture the centre-stage of the global economy. It was quite evident as my personal observation during my higher studies in China would suggest, that China, through its cheap labor or, in many cases, unpaid labor enforced on prisoners in jail-cum-production units, captured the world market in an unprecedented manner. Then came the era of dumping China-manufactured products in various countries, especially in the Third World. Clearly, such mass dumping by the Chinese practically sought to destroy indigenous products and industry in many parts of the world. The deceitful practices of the Chinese were manifested through their proclaimed adherence to socialism but, on contrary, in their actual pursuance of hardcore capitalism, both internally and externally.  Material aggrandisement was adopted to subvert regimes in other countries, and thereafter install dictators with allegiance to Beijing. Such modus operandi was implemented with a certain degree of subtlety at least till 2012.

Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic, was excessively obsessive with an ultra-communist ideological brand, combining Marx, Lenin and Stalin. After his death in 1976, his successor Deng Xiaoping brought an end to the Maoist ideological obsession and advocated a theory, namely “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” under which the CPC remained a Communist Party solely in name. Deng had literally discarded the Marxist theory in public life, and had rapidly expanded the role of the market in the Chinese domestic economy and embraced a foreign policy that maximised China’s participation in a global economic order led by the USA. The CPC, in fact, reinvented itself in the mould of capitalism in order to stay relevant for the sake of remaining in power, and also for abiding with time to extract all the benefits from the liberal world but strike back at an opportune moment. However, practically, CPC could never abandon its genetically feudal mindset embedded in its “civilisational baggage of sanctimonious hypocrisy”. Despite being an ideological opponent, the US-led western world, in its penchant for building an anti-Soviet bloc in the East, kept nurturing and pampering the CPC in its vain hope of turning China into a free society like the West.

Then came the era of Xi Jinping as the president of the PRC. The era of pragmatism, non-ideological governance came to a crashing halt as Xi echoed his diktats that the country might be steering back to its Maoist ideological moorings.  Today, Xi controls the party as its General Secretary, the state as its President, and the armed forces as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The military strategic culture of China started showing its ugly face under Xi Jinping’s wild ambition of establishing himself as the new Hegemonic Emperor of the world through his pet projects of “One Belt, One Road”, “Belt and Road Initiative”, or even the illegal “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”. China continued resorting to its hidden agenda of enticement and creating debt-traps in the greater part of the world. Sinister designs were invented to internally weaken the countries that did not fall into its trap. China’s ever-increasing hunger in terms of exploiting natural resources in every part of the world has enhanced the danger of catastrophes not only on Earth but also in the outer space.

Xi Jinping uses his covert scheme of “Chinese victimhood” and claims avenging Western injustice and prejudices down the line in history. His using the ‘victim card’ arose from his own experiences as a son of a Communist apparatchik, especially during the ‘Cultural Revolution’. In fact, within the CPC, after having ascended the highest echelons of power, Xi is actually playing the victimhood card by developing a negative view of life — both internally and externally. Xi used his “anti-corruption” drive against top leaders, both within the government hierarchy and also outside the public sector, in order to capture the imagination of the common Chinese. He abolished the presidential term limits and incorporated a powerful new agency called the National Supervisory Commission into the Chinese constitution, and used this tool to persecute all those whom he perceived as his political adversaries. He appointed himself as the life-time emperor of China, virtually setting the clock of history upside down. One would recall how Yuan Shikai had become the self-proclaimed emperor of China, though briefly, after the foundation of the Republic in 1912. Sun Yat-sen might have repented having trusted Yuan.

Probably Hu Jintao too might have regretted about why he had chosen Xi Jinping as his successor. At the closing ceremony of the 20th Party Congress of the CPC held in October 2022, Hu Jintao was unceremoniously dragged out of the hall. Xi was apprehensive that Hu might abstain from voting for Xi’s continuation in power before the media. Premier Li Keqiang, being the protégé of Hu Jintao, was ousted from the Politburo. The announcement about the new Politburo came just after Hu was taken out of the hall. Xi took no probable risk of facing an agitated Hu who could have expressed annoyance at Li’s exclusion. Instead of promoting greater balance and openness within the party, Xi completely undermined the past conventions. He instilled distrust within the party, the state and even within the officers of the armed forces. The whole country is under surveillance through highly sophisticated systems of monitoring each and every person’s movements and whereabouts by intruding into one’s private life.

Following more or less in the footsteps of Mao Zedong, Xi enshrined “Xi Jinping Thoughts” in the Constitution, in the school curriculum, and even in other walks of life with impunity by virtue of his unbridled power. Deng Xiaoping worked to a great extent in order to tune China up with the pace of the world in the post-Mao era. But Xi scrapped those positive factors and brought China once again, and probably more virulently, in a mode of direct confrontation with the rest of the world. One might be interested to know about Xi’s zodiac sign. He was born in 1953, the year of the Snake. It is believed that men of Snake Year combine lofty ideals and inherent strength of action, enabling them to reach the pinnacle of their careers. Their shortcomings lie in their character. They are stubborn, not listening to people’s persuasion, suspicious in character, keeping words in heart and not confiding to others, and are complete hedonists.

By the end of 2019, Xi Jinping unleashed a clandestine biological war across the globe. Of course, the initial connivance came from the USA but later it turned out to be a game changer against the western world. All the theories going around the Wuhan virus laboratory leakage, or the accidental spilling of virus in a wet-market in Wuhan, would eventually be proven deliberate fabrications. The actual blueprint of the global pandemic was drawn several years ago after Xi’s coming to power.  The preliminary ploy was to liquidate the old-age population within China and thereby save financial resources that could have otherwise been expended in pension. Thus, Wuhan became the ‘Experimentation Lab’.  Later, the lethal viruses of the bio-war was deliberately planted far beyond the borders of China, thus bringing death in almost every part of the world.  The secret document referred by me in my earlier article indicates that the export of virus was primarily aimed at annihilating the Whites in the West. Around the same time, when the pandemic raged across the globe, Xi unleashed an entire bunch of Wolf Warriors all over the world to deal with other countries. Wolf Warrior Diplomacy is a style of coercive diplomacy adopted by Chinese diplomats under the Xi Jinping administration. It is an assertive diplomatic tactic that goes as far as insulting or threatening those deemed to violate “China’s interests”. Xi made use of this tactic in asserting China’s unjustified claims over the entire South China Sea or the Indo-Pacific region.  Creating and militarising artificial islands, and capturing of shoals, or even naming the illegally occupied isles in the ocean, have been a part of Xi’s coercive methods of fabricating a Chinese narrative of supremacy and an “ancestral inheritance” of the high seas.

Amidst the Covid pandemic, Xi Jinping preferred to destroy the India-China relations completely with his aggressively expansionist manoeuvres along the border. Starting right from the communist takeover of China, through various developments of events across seven decades, it is quite apparent that Communist China has never been a friend of India at any point of time in history. China’s increasing adherence to the abhorred policy of “Might is Right” has brought disrepute to China and its self-proclaimed ‘civilisational superiority’. China’s stubborn imposition of its decisions on other countries in the name of preserving its national interests has been witnessed in its usurping the liberal policies in other countries but never conceding anything in return to others within its own jurisdiction. Ludicrously, this is what China terms as “win-win” policy.  Nibbling at the borders of India, and initiating the salami-slicing tactics even at the height of pandemic displays the viciously malicious intents of Xi’s China.

The Galwan Valley incident with bloodshed on 15 June 2020 was preplanned by the perfidious land-grab Army of China. It was a blood sacrifice offered by the PLA on the birthday of Xi Jinping. The official rhetoric from China kept blaring against India ever since the PLA had unilaterally changed the status quo of exercising control over the areas of domination along the India-China frontier.  As a China-watcher, I had already foreseen the violent clashes a week prior to the incident. Greater crudity by ordinary citizens of China was manifested after the unfortunate assassination of the former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe in July 2022, when they celebrated his death. The Chinese, in multifarious ways, also ridiculed India when, during the first few waves of the pandemic, several funeral pyres were seen burning on the ghats of Varanasi. But Indians never derided China for the recent cataclysm brought about due to the sudden relaxation of lockdown in China.  This is the civilisational difference between India and China.

Xi Jinping’s weakness was reflected through his excessive lockdown policy imposed upon the ordinary citizens across the country in the name of reaching a Zero-Covid level for entire China. He wanted to root out any challenge to his absolute power and authority. China’s hardline Covid-19 strategy stoked public frustration, with growing pain around snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing campaigns. Exercising Zero-Covid excesses restricted the public movement outside their home, and thus neutralised any possibility of a popular uprising.  Xi made the system completely opaque, and thus inaccessible to both his countrymen and the world beyond. The excessive measures adopted against the commoners in China gave rise to public resentment against China’s authoritarianism, and steered the protests ultimately against Xi.  Right in the heart of the capital city of Beijing, big banners were displayed with slogans — (1) Say no to Covid test, yes to food.  (2) No to lockdown, yes to freedom.  (3) No to lies, yes to dignity.  (4) No to Cultural Revolution, yes to reform.  (5) No to great leader, yes to vote.  (6)  Don’t be a slave, be a citizen.  (7) Remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping. Lastly, it was inscribed—“Our generation loves freedom.

Similar situation arose in Shanghai and Beijing in 1986 during my student days in China. That was the precursor of the students’ protest which culminated with the Tiananmen Square Massacre on 4 June 1989. In those days, the common citizens and even a portion of the press were in support of the students’ movement. Their demand for democracy and greater freedom was dubbed as a foreign interference. Then, Deng Xiaoping was the paramount leader. Tanks were brought onto the streets of Beijing. The exact figure of casualty still remains a state secret.  Quite analogous to the rolling of battle tanks against its own citizens, this time around July 2022, during the height of pandemic, large-scale protests erupted in many parts of China. Amid a massive bank scam, bank depositors protested against the official decision that impeded them from withdrawing their own money. They demanded the release of frozen funds. Displaying its utter insensitivity, the government rolled out battle tanks to scare the people.  Millions of people were summarily terminated from their posts during the pandemic, thus giving rise to unemployment in China.

Communist China has been brutal in handling dissidence across the globe. Very recently, countries woke up to the unpleasant fact that China has been blatantly violating international law by secretly sending their police to at least twenty-five cities in twenty-one countries—setting up more than fifty illegal police stations across five continents to monitor, threaten and terrorise Chinese nationals living overseas. China’s illegal deployment of police with covert global network has been operating on foreign soil, primarily in Europe. The clandestine operation by the Chinese police involves physical and mental torture of dissidents outside China, and even forcing them to return to China to face criminal proceedings through a well-coordinated surreptitious network of locating, pressurising, blackmailing, and silencing by making reference of bringing harm to their relatives back in China.  This is China’s underground overseas police force conducting “long-arm policing and transnational repression.” The Chinese government seeks to control its diaspora through illegal methods such as intimidation, harassment, detention or imprisonment of suspects and their families back in China. Their children are even deprived of education as part of a “guilt by association” campaign. The handling of the Uighurs, Kazaks, and other ethnic minorities in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) has been equally ruthless. Massive violations of human rights, including clandestine business in human organs, have been reported. Yet the western world as well as the Islamic world remain mute spectators just because the Chinese state overtly fills their coffers. Hypocrisy of the recipient countries is glaring.

The diabolic features of Xi Jinping’s regime have been manifested in multifarious forms. China’s unrelenting ambition of becoming a global superpower by dislodging the USA and turning the world into a unipolar one has pushed humanity to the brink of an impending Yellow Peril that also underlines rampant exploitation of natural resources globally for the sake of China’s embellishment. Xi Jinping’s malignant and malevolent approach towards relationship with the world, based on sheer muscle and money power is being loathed by most people the world over except some corrupt power-hungry politicians and dictators. Taiwan, which has never been a territory under the CPC, is being threatened with forcible occupation by the communist warmongers of the mainland China.

An unprecedented scale of weaponisation of various countries is taking place, following China’s hegemonic expansionism and the consequential response from countries far and near. The USA that nourished and armed the Chinese dictators since the 1970s, is suddenly finding itself vulnerable in the face of China’s ever-increasing military might and giant leaps in technological innovations. Unprecedented changes in the global climate pattern has resulted from excessive exploitation of natural resources and wanton denudation of forests, thereby bringing ecological destruction and an overall imbalance in the weather-changing patterns. All such occurrences underscore selfish policies, protectionism and rampant corruption. Fast depletion of energy and subterranean water resources, and exhaustion of financial resources, coupled with rapid draining of human patience are dangerous indicators for a catastrophic future of our global village. Untimely occurrence of torrential rain-causing flash floods, melting of glacier at an alarming rate, resulting in the rise in sea level, endanger the entire biosphere. Due to global interdependence, no nation can thrive for long at the cost of the rest of the world.

A series of antithesis characterises a rather unpleasant coexistence of India and China as neighbours. Across the Himalayan heights, lie the diametrically opposite worldviews or antithetical philosophies of India and China. The Indic philosophy believes in inclusivity, and thus professes the values embedded in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the World is one Family). On the contrary, the Chinese philosophy is all about exclusivity, and thus advocates the concept of Middle Kingdom (中国) that is “ordained to receive tributes” from the world far and wide, and is “mandated by Heaven” to establish Chinese supremacy in the global arena.  Hence the coinage of the Chinese phrase “天下第一” which means “Number One in the World” — thereby reflecting the Chinese aspiration for a worldwide domination. Unlike the Indic worldview of a peaceful coexistence of cultures, the Sinocentric view of the world aggressively seeks to project China’s civilizational superiority and Sino-supremacist outlook that is potentially destructive. To my analysis, the Indic faith is sāttvik (सात्त्विक), whereas the Chinese faith is tāmasik (तामसिक).  Correspondingly, India epitomizes Yang (阳), and China symbolizes Yin (阴). With such realities, howsoever unpleasant and with everlasting contradictions, we must learn to live like incompatible neighbours.

Author Brief Bio: Prof. Priyadarśī Mukherji is Professor in Chinese & Sinological Studies, JNU, New Delhi.

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