Scholars and strategists across the globe have always wondered at the excellence of China’s hoary strategic Wisdom. This is a Wisdom which is derived from cumulative teachings of the ‘Hundred Schools of Thought’ that flowered in Chinese civilisation from time to time since the Eighth Century BCE and continued to bloom off and on for over a thousand years. Defined and nurtured by political philosophies as propounded by the schools of Daoism, Confucianism, Mohism and Legalism, and further fine tuned by centuries of experience in articulation of complex statecraft, that Wisdom had been instrumental in building up great attributes of astute statesmanship among the successive Chinese Empires. Though many times over the time-cycles, that attribute had failed to arrest decline of the Chinese State, such down turns may not be attributable to loss of Wisdom in the state apparatus; there were extraneous factors at play, particularly after the 17th Century.
It is therefore rather strange that China’s Communist Regime, natural inheritors of that eternal Wisdom, could choose to shoot its foot again and again!
The Chinese practice of statesmanship was built around cadres of highly trained, motivated and competent ‘Mandarins’ who were the repository of that hoary State Wisdom. This Mandarin class formed the core for an elaborate system of bureaucracy. In fact, irrespective of the ruling dynasty and the institution of Emperor which could come from the native Han stock as well as non-Han ‘barbarian’ lineages – Tibetan, Mongol, Khitan, Jurchen, even Turk-Uyghurs, for example – conduct of State business was invariably in the hands of these Mandarins, majority of whom come from the Han stock. Considering those times, it was the Mandarin’s system of recording collective experiences and building these up into institutionalised policies and practices of statecraft that attributed to the excellence of the Chinese State’s external security and internal administration. Of course, there had been exceptions when the Mandarins’ bureaucratic apathy, infighting, nepotism, corruption and treachery had triggered collapse of the State apparatus – as indeed it happened with the Tang (618-907 CE), Song (960-1279 CE) and finally, the Late Qing (1860-1911 CE) Dynasties.
Apart from such exceptions however, the innate Wisdom of China generally prevailed over the manner the Empire ruled its far and widespread realm. Even in chaotic periods, when control over the realm was divided amongst various warlords and internecine bloodshed was common, that Wisdom prevailed, more or less, to keep the basic State structure in function and allow it to conduct its business according to deliberately devised policies. That China did not ever suffer the ignominy of slavery nor had to succumb to the scourge of colonisation, bears testimony to that fact.
When viewed in the context of China’s contemporary policy articulations however, reflection of that traditional Wisdom appears to have faded. The reasons could be a mix of arrogance of power, test of keeping up with rising economic aspirations of the people and internal power struggle between the Xi Jinping’s camp and his challengers – the rival power centres of Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin factions included. But whatever be the cause, it is the hapless neighbours who must be the first to suffer the Chinese regime’s repudiation of that sublime Wisdom, before the consequences start striking at the perpetrator’s roots.
It began immediately after October 1949 when the Communist Party of China (CPC), Mao Zedong and Zhu De in lead, assumed power in China. Having captured the throne, the CPC leadership wasted no time in adapting to the imperialist impulse that came with the seat of power. Hereafter, it is a strange narrative of China’s rulers repeatedly contradicting their inheritance of strategic Wisdom. Even if well known, it would be in order to recount the major instances when China’s current regime chose to repudiate the centuries of accumulated Wisdom of statecraft, and the foresight it offered.
Tramplinga People: Tibet
One of the CPC’s first acts was to invade a defenceless Tibet, a nation having nothing Chinese about it. Having ‘reclaimed’ their ‘sovereignty’ over Tibet, the hapless Tibetans were tricked into walking into a ‘17 Point Agreement’. It was only a matter of time when every point of that Agreement was summarily repudiated, while Tibet’s distinct culture, geography and nationhood was enslaved by over whelming force of assertive administration and a flood of Han migration. Ever since that outrage, China has come to be identified with its subversion of neighbouring societies, thus losing out on other nations’ trust.
Since its powerful rise, wariness of Chinese tricks is mentioned but in hushed tone, but none of China’s neighbours are enthused by Chinese overtures, howsoever innocent these might appear to be. For any claimant of great power status, that indeed is a great loss which goes against the prestige and trust it must enjoy to claim that distinction.
Destroying a Friendship: 1962
Soon enough, the regime shot its foot again. Having launched into a ‘Great Leap Forward’ only to land upon stacks of its citizen’s skeletons and so threatened by a deluge of internal dissent, it chose to attack India, its sole well wisher, supporter and a best friend. In one stroke thus, it lost the goodwill and trust of nearly one seventh of peace loving humanity, a key neighbour, the region’s venerated religious destinationand a potentially endowed partner in global politics and commerce.
Meanwhile, under a conviction that the Communist ideology mandated them to convert the rest of the world, the CPC paid, armed and unleashed their brainwashed fiends to internally destabilise most of its East and South Asian neighbours – Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, to list just a few – thus instigating untold mayhem of treachery and bloodbath upon them. The image of a capricious China was cemented thus. Seldom has a great power’s distraction from its inherent Wisdom been so stark and permanently self-injurious.
Company China Keeps
The modern Mandarins had not been done yet. First, they entered into a land grabbers’ pact with Pakistan to occupy India’s Shaksgam Valley. Then, as its brainwashed Red Guards went about destroying its own cultural and intellectual inheritance under the garb of ‘Cultural Revolution’, China chose to share its unique nuclearstatus in Asia with such destabiliser states as North Korea and Pakistan. By nuclearising these irresponsible regimes, China has not only triggered direct as well as second-hand nuclear proliferation, it has also allowed pigmies to share its exalted status and influence which should have been its exclusive preserve. Today, North Korea has turned intransigent; tomorrow Pakistan, when its internal impulse is contradicted, would show thumbs to China. Thus by its short- sightedness, China has opened avenues for its current followers to turn the table at a future date.
Further, China has forced India to go nuclear, thus impeding its own options. And by tying its economic schemes to the Pakistani dispensation, it has left itself with no option but to acquiesce to Pakistan’s globally condemned terrorism and shield universally despicable terrorists. Seldom has any regime undermined its own international standing so conclusively, neither has any claimant to global power derailed its rise so effectively.
Belying Self-prophecy of ‘Peaceful Rise’
Finally, after a period of Deng Xiaoping contrived quietetude when it build up its economic, technological and military muscle, China has repudiated its hoary Wisdom to turn its ‘peaceful rise’ into a nightmare for its neighbours. It begins with the illogical outrage of China claiming the entire South China Sea right up to the multi-national coast lines; a concession has been made by leaving out the other nation’s beaches. Forcible occupation of the Gulf of Tongking and South China Sea islands, encroachments across the Indo-Tibet Border and buying military bases in the Indian Ocean Region where it need not, all these acts accompanied with hegemonic rhetoric, are but the manifestation of China’s latest urge to shoot at its foot again. No doubt, to be a global power, China needs to possess strong military power, but the question that perplexes the strategic analysts is as to why does China need such massive military build up in the Indian Ocean Region unless it expects regional stake holders to physically resist certain actions that the Chinese plan to undertake in the future.
To be fair in the context of China’s business of ‘buying’ influence through economic colonisation, it may be argued that if the elected leadership of Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and some East Asian nations deliberately enter into infrastructural transactions even under the looming shadow of future economic bondages and political interference, China can hardly be held responsible for that. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is one such scheme which has the potentials of out-break of future clash of interests between the parties – one need not guess as to who will prevail. It is a classical case of indigenous rulers grabbing at immediate profits at the cost of leading the nation to long lasting trouble.
Territorial Grab in Steady Increments
Among the incidents of ‘shooting own’s foot’, China’s recent venture into the Doklam Area of Bhutan takes the cake. Brushing aside a small and peaceful country’s small and peaceful interests, China has sent its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to capture areas where it has no business to be, leave alone to build a road. In the process, it has left no choice for India but to come to Bhutan’s aid under the Indo-Bhutan Treaty obligations. The implications are stark: One, China has undertaken to undermine India’s treaty credibility; two, it has arrogated the right to interpret, in unilateral and partisan manner, its previous international agreements; and three, it has left a passive power, India, with no option but to stand its ground against the PLA juggernaut, even at the prospect of ominous possibilities. Simultaneously, by holding out threats of military aggression to punish India for its defiance of Chinese diktat and linking it to nationalist sentiments among its tutored citizens, it leaves little option for it to find a mutually acceptable, peaceful resolution of differences. No matter if China presently succeeds in grabbing neighbour’s territories by its humungous military force, the latter’s sovereign rights over these territories would remain in contention till these could be retrieved at a future date.
Invocation of Legendry ‘Wisdom of China’
Regimes which cannot resist needling lesser neighbours are, beyond a point, liable to provoke debilitating resistance. Cycles of rise and fall of powers as well as expansion and shrinking of territories usurped are facts historical after all. A great nation of China’s Wisdom and international status could mean, and show, what it preaches: its ‘peaceful rise’.