Have you heard of ‘Core Interests’? No, it has nothing to do with ‘organising’ the CWG, IPL auctions, mining in tribal areas or OBC vote banks, though it is true that in India ‘core’ issues often veer around these subjects. ‘Core interests’ is the subject of a serious debate amongst the top leadership of the People’s Republic of China, both civilian and military.
Traditionally, the ‘core interest’ of the Communist regime has been the continuation of the party’s raj.
For the past 60 years, the Communist Party of China has ruled supreme over the Middle Kingdom. Chinese rulers are, however, anguished about the future of the Communist dynasty. They are aware that in the past, Heaven has withdrawn its Mandate from many dynasties, bringing disasters, famines, floods or earthquakes to different parts of the empire (it is happening right now) leading to the dethronement of the emperors. This is why, in June 2006 the State Council ordered an eight-episode TV research entitled Preparing For Danger in Times of Safety — Historic Lessons Learned from the Demise of Soviet Communism.
Some in China believe that the chance to grab the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea has now arrived.
The project was given to no less than the Academy of Social Sciences, the prime government think-tank. Party members were requested to carefully study and ‘discuss’ the conclusions offered by the Chinese president himself: “There are multiple factors contributing to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a very important one being Khrushchev throwing away Stalin’s knife and Gorbachev’s open betrayal of Marxism-Leninism.”
Apart from the survival of the party, the PCR has a few core issues, namely Taiwan and Tibet and Xinjiang (which symbolise the stability — or instability — of the empire).
During the last 60 years, China has grown bigger and more powerful. In 2008, Beijing successfully organised the Summer Olympics; in 2010, the Universal Exhibition in Shanghai was another show; Beijing has maintained its rate of growth despite the economic crisis and has now become the No 2 world economic power. Many in China believe that the time of the Middle Kingdom has come and Beijing should act accordingly.
As Steve Tsang, a fellow at St Antony’s College of Oxford University put it in an excellent paper Nationalism risks felling China’s peaceful rise: ‘Chinese officials then saw that there was scope to push the boundary’. Some in China believe that the chance to grab the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea has now arrived.
Probably encouraged by President Obama’s wishy-washy approach during his first visit to Beijing in November last year and his vacillating attitude vis-à-vis the Dalai Lama and the sale of F-16 jets to Taiwan, the hawks in Beijing have awakened.
Tsang says: “By declaring the South China Sea a ‘core national interest’ and elevating it to the same status as Tibet and Taiwan, Beijing has marked another territorial claim. If this is not challenged, it will gradually gain de facto international acceptance, as its claims over Tibet and Taiwan have in the last six decades.”
The China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation cites some PLA major-generals to explain Beijing’s new aggressive attitude. General Luo of the Yuan Academy of Military Sciences objected in June to the joint US-South Korean exercises. The general put it vividly: “How can we let a stranger fall sound asleep just outside our bedroom?”