“Our path is different from both the paths of Germany in World War I and Germany and Japan in World War II, when they tried to overhaul the world political landscape by way of aggressive wars. Our path is also different from that of the former U.S.S.R. during the reign of Brezhnev, which relied on a military bloc and arms race in order to compete with the United States for world supremacy.”
China’s Peaceful Rise: A New Path, Zheng Bijian, December 9, 2002, The 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
When Hu Jintao was president of the Central Party School, Zheng Bijian was the executive vice president. The two had been instrumental in formalising the concept of “peaceful rise” also later modified to “peaceful development” drawing from an extension of Deng’s often-stated idea of “peace and development.”
For this piece let it be taken that Hu started his tenure of President with the aim of carrying this banner of peaceful development and wholeheartedly implementing it.
Hu ensured that China’s spectacular economic growth and Beijing’s consequent optimism about its future could not be obscured by major political changes. By 2002, the CCP’s conservative neo-Marxists, who had been shunted aside by Deng and Jiang, tried to strike back. Hu stood up against his predecessor Jiang’s political moves to remain powerful and influential. Hu did not buckle under intense pressure from ideological opponents of “reform and opening” and did not roll back the key economic and legal reforms. He maintained the pro-entrepreneur economic posture and did not implement a policy that created national champions as pressed for by the “Neo-Marxists”. Hundreds of industries deemed “strategic” were consolidated and asked to compete with the modern entrepreneurs. Beijing did not step in to protect failing Chinese state-owned enterprises. Private entrepreneurs in China thrived.
The CCP and Chinese government set developmental mile stones to be achieved in the years ahead. The first was to achieve basic mechanisation of the PLA by 2020 by when China should be equipped to a level as the US forces were in 2010. The second, that by 2021, which is the centenary of the founding of the CCP, achieve a full Xiaokang society – (roughly meaning “moderately well-off” society). In more tangible terms – to double the per capita income of the people from the levels that were existing in 2010. The third, “Made in China” (MIC) 2025, wherein it has sought to engineer a shift for China from being a low-end manufacturer to becoming a high-end producer of goods. In doing so transitioning the country’s existing manufacturing infrastructure and labour market towards producing more specialised output – with targeted investments in research and development (R&D) and an emphasis on technological innovation – pushing for leadership in robotics, information technology, and clean energy, among other sectors.
China worked for this comprehensive development which gradually grew and consolidated with help from the West. In that those countries at the forefront of cutting edge technology willingly shared knowhow with China. China became the most sought after country for every global manufacturer. Huge conglomerates moved lock-stock and barrel to the inviting development environment created by the CCP.
Hu saw that in Eastern Europe and Arab states there were popular pro-democracy colour uprisings by the people. His right hand man, Zhou Yongkang, the Internal Security chief was confident that the people are totally with the Party and government and there was no chance of such a stir arising in China especially since the instigators were fully with the government.
CCP too had opened up its political systems and adopted a liberal path. It assiduously cultivated its relations with western democracies and stayed away from States ruled by ‘Alpha Male’ autocrats and theocrats.
Hu announced the “New Historic Missions” for the military. In that the military was tasked to assist all nations where China had initiated economic and commercial ventures. These nations were ever indebted to China. Hu also laid the foundation for what was later to become the OBOR.
Hu Jintao handed over the leadership to Xi Jinping in 2012. Xi was also committed to making China a great nation. He identified a “China Dream” for making the country a strong and prosperous and the people contented.
Xi picked the threads therefrom and wove them into policy. The OBOR became BRI with the most prestigious project being CPEC. The CAR’s were the first to receive Xi’s largesse through the road and railway lines passing through these countries all the way to Western Europe. Now they could get their regular quota of authentic Scotch whiskey directly from Scotland by the wagon loads. It catapulted them into prosperity, albeit, even if in a wee bit of inebriated state.
The most favoured nation linked to the idea of BRI was, of course, Pakistan. With the CPEC Pakistan was fully transformed. A large number of Han Chinese moved and settled in exclusive preserves in Pakistan. Mandarin was made a national language in the whole of Pakistan and it was made the medium of instruction from the primary level all over the country. Pakistan enjoyed the fruits of its “higher than the mountains and deeper than the seas all weather” relationship with China. In fact it even opted to become an autonomous territory of China.
The hue and cry of “debt trap” was all negative propaganda. Xi has been out and out helping these developing countries to reach the standards China had attained. The projects in all the developing countries were given long-term interest loans and the construction was also left to the respective governments.
Xi became good friends with Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai. The Military Junta were as thick as thieves with Xi. All corrupt officials at every level voluntarily disclosed all their assets and handed them back to the state.
PRC had a long standing policy of “three nos” with regard to Taiwan, these were – No Taiwan independence; No two China’s; No Taiwan membership in organisations where statehood is required. Hu brought in another dimension with “Four Never” – Never sway; Never give up; Never change; Never compromise. However, cross strait relations were like never before. Trade, tourism, industrial co-dependence and regular summits were the order of the day. Xi was happy to continue on this path. Renouncing the use of force. Xi said that final reunification could wait for the next century. During his watch, the “one country two systems” operating in Hong Kong thrived beyond even the expectations of Britain! Hong Kong had a series of free elections. The Chief Executive of the Executive Council of the HKSAR Government has also been an elected member and not imposed by Beijing as was expected by the West.
After the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague gave its verdict that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’, Xi Jinping made out of ordinary gestures in settling all maritime disputes with its estranged neighbours. As a consequence, all the nations around the South China Sea are able to freely fish in the sea and carry out oil exploration too. The situation is similar in East China Sea too. Earlier in the decade China had settled the land boundary disputes with all its fourteen neighbours including Bhutan and India!!
With all these developments China became the favourite destination for tourists, students and businesses. MIC was the sought after mark of excellence on all things from micro chips to satellites and from shoes to ships. Its world class universities were now the knowledge centres which outdid those in Europe and US. Harvard, Stanford and MIT were passé as also Oxford and Cambridge in comparison to Peking, Tsinghua, Zhejiang and Fudan Universities. Mandarin was the most spoken language in the world.
China’s “peaceful development” had been an uplifting experience for the “common good of humanity”. Its “Soft Power” was at a pinnacle.
BUT, here the fictitious scenario ends. The reality has turned out to be diametrically opposite to the above scenario.
China has embraced a medieval psychology. Mao had said that “power flows from the barrel of a gun”. With all guns blazing China has adopted this philosophy as the basis of its aggressive policies of expansion. Power is the fundamental tool employed for acquiring territory in China’s irredentist quest, in securing essential strategic resources and subjugating of military power and political will of adversaries.
Leaders who deploy military power for posturing or brinkmanship may miscalculate. They may not achieve the desired end state. Deploying military power tends to jumpstart an escalatory spiral. And escalation between two nuclear powers may culminate in “Mutual Assured Destruction”!!
China has embarked on the path of territorial expansion, calling it non-violent expansion. China has accepted coercion as a legitimate means in this pursuit. Beijing aims to reshape elements of regional and international order. It claims that it faces “interwoven problems affecting its survival and development as well as traditional and non-traditional threats”.
In 2019, China was confronted with a deadly virus of its own making – the WuHan Virus. For full three months it held back all information from the WHO and the rest of the world of the effects of this virus and its human to human transmission. That how only a limited geographical area in China was affected is a mystery. And that Beijing and Shanghai escaped unscathed deepens the mystery.
Post its recovery from the WuHan crisis, China has been on a blatantly aggressive spree in the SCS. A Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed into a Vietnamese fishing boat and sank it. It did the same to a Philippine fishing boat anchored near one of the reefs and left the fishermen to fend for themselves. The PLAN is provoking the Japanese by its ships venturing close to the disputed islands in the ECS. The PLAAF has been active over the straits of Taiwan and have frequently crossed the middle line. While US Navy was carrying out manoeuvres in the SCS China launched a DF 21 missile from a base in the Gobi Desert into the Pacific as an open challenge to the US.
Whether it is Xinjiang or Tibet or Hong Kong China has used the CCP Army (PLA) to subjugate the population by draconian laws and by the ham-handed employment of military force.
In May 2020, China amassed a huge military force in Tibet which then directed its energies in usurping Indian territory in Ladakh. There was no evident reason for this aggression but to subdue India in the region. Its active involvement in digital snooping inside India of a large section of political, military and industrial leaders as also scientists, scholars, media anchors and a host of such persons is indicative of China waging its “unrestricted warfare”.
Unfortunately, the “China Threat” Theory which began doing the rounds in the late 1990’s was not based on a hypothetical assumption but it foresaw the situation as it has turned out to be today.
It does not matter who is at the helm, Hu, Xi or anyone else. The CCP and its Army will ensure that the CCP Empire and the Communist dynasty does not disintegrate. The quote at the beginning of the article by Zheng Bijian was only a deception. Thus, China’s rise will be everything else but will not be peaceful.
“If India wants war, China will oblige. Let’s see which country can outlast the other”. (Global Times).