Taming the Dragon
All warfare is based on deception – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Middle Kingdom has many achievements to its name, paper and gunpowder the most well known. It has been able to project an image of being inscrutable, tough, opaque and absolutely unwilling to entertain a contrary narrative. All this is true, but also true is the fact that the Chinese are more accepting of dictatorial tendencies. This faceless and gigantic mass of humanity has very little tradition of argument or balance, and absolutely no tradition of freethinking. Brilliant, hardworking and disciplined they are; consensual they are not.
China severely restricts opinion, and any opinion contrary to what the politburo deems appropriate, may find you in ‘correctional facilities’, where you will be ‘gently educated’ about how you must think. Many people do not return home after a few sessions of this ‘gentle education’.
China has the largest standing army in the world. It has the second largest economy. It is the most populous nation on earth and is a nuclear power, which occupies a pride of place on the United Nations Security Council. It has all the prerequisites of a global superpower.
And yet, China is afraid of social media.
This is why Twitter, Google, YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook are banned in China. The Chinese government gives you alternatives, all in Chinese, and all under heavy surveillance by the China’s infamous Ministry of State Security (MSS), their premier intelligence agency.
And that begs the question; what is it about the Chinese political structure that is so shaky?
Democracy, as a workable solution, is far from perfect. But warts and all, it is still the best system of governance the world has ever seen. India took a serious leap of faith when it adopted democracy after independence. Our founding fathers showed tremendous vision. Democracy had very little going for it in the 1940s. While America was great and Britain was a superpower, democracy had thrown up luminaries like Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. Churchill wanted to keep India under subjugation. Hitler had similar views about the entire world.
China, on the other hand, chose the path of Mao Tse Tung. There is an apocryphal story about farmers complaining to Mao about sparrows eating grain and damaging the harvest. Mao decreed that all sparrows be killed. So, all sparrows were killed. But sparrows also eat insects that damage crops. This damaged the local ecosystem and was one of the leading reasons for massive crop failure.
In 1957, Chairman Mao launched the Great Leap Forward, a program to catapult China into the league of developed nations through rapid industrialization and collectivization. 20 to 45 million people died due to famine and other forms of artificially inflicted violence.
Hitler was responsible for as many deaths, both civilian and military; he is globally reviled, and rightly so. An argument can be made that while Hitler was pure and distilled evil; he was responsible for deaths of foreigners in a global war, apart from deaths of Jews, gypsies and other Nazi-proclaimed so-called “undesirables” within Germany. While there is no accurate figure available, Hitler is held responsible for approximately 35 million deaths.
Josef Stalin, through his purges and executions, imprisonment in gulags and forced labor was responsible for approximately 45 million deaths.
Lets look at how their nations remember them.
The Germans are ashamed of their past and abhor the very name of Hitler. The Russians have turned capitalist and Stalin is a somewhat uncomfortable reminder of their bloody past. The Chinese worship Chairman Mao.
China’s methods have changed, not the mindset. Mao caused millions to die because he wanted to rapidly industrialize China. Millions more are being severely compromised, as China races frantically to grab global pole position. China has changed the entire demography of Tibet, with regular and systematic injection of Han Chinese into the plateau. Han males marry Tibetan females. The child is loyal to China, the Chinese being famously patriarchal.
The Uighur cant pray or fast during Ramzan. Maulvis are made to dance to Chinese music during the holy days. Women wearing hijab are cautioned. Chinese authorities even have a problem with the Uighur fascination with curd. I will let that pass; I simply don’t know how to address the issue of national security being threatened by Chinese Muslims eating curd.
If curd threatens China, did Twitter ever stand a chance?
All of us have seen automobile advertisements in India, with companies claiming a particular mileage, often with the caveat “under test conditions”. This simply means that given perfect conditions, the mileage will be x. But that’s not how automobiles behave in the real world, do they? That’s China for you – always performing “under test conditions”. Every thing is government controlled, including “market forces”.
Here is a list of the top 20 Chinese companies, by revenuehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_Chinese_companies. You will note that the majority of the companies are state owned. In the Chinese context it means that business is guaranteed by the state. And, the real business of the state is business.
Lifan, Loncin, Zongshen, Jialing and Qingqi – these are the top motorcycle brands in China, each valued at a billion dollars, or less. And you, my dear friend, have in all probability, never heard of any of them. Not unless you are an importer of Chinese motorcycles or motorcycle parts.
The point I am trying to make is that the entire story about the Chinese economic miracle is very real, but it is also synthetically manufactured, much like a top athlete whose competitors are chosen by a common coach. The winner is decided before the race starts.
What made China a global financial powerhouse? The 3 W’s – wisdom, will and the whip – formed the superhighway on which China’s car is zooming, albeit a bit slowly now; the wisdom of the government, the will of the Communist party and whip of the state when the citizens did not fall in line.
There are many pillars that uphold the Chinese edifice. However, the two most critical are the export-oriented economy and suppression of free will. Both are joined at the hip and cannot exist without the other.
As of now, an India-China war is an absolute improbability. If, God forbid, we do go to war (and there are no reasons why we should), we can make it extremely expensive for China to wage war, but we cannot defeat China. Neither can China defeat us. It will be a terribly expensive stalemate for both sides.
Boycotting Chinese goods is more of a moral message that hardly translates into dollars of any level of inconvenience.
If we are to tame the dragon, we must hit the dragon where it hurts.
One, we must realize that even the high internal consumption within China is not unrelated to its earnings from export. China is an export-driven economy. It invents or creates nothing new. Think of it as a massive photocopying shop. Nothing is original.
If India makes infrastructure development and creation of a manufacturing ecosystem a national priority, China will bleed. If India works very closely with Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Cambodia and Philippines, and builds a very close “special relationship”, China will start hemorrhaging. The day we together achieve even half the manufacturing scale of China at local costs, their story will be more or less over.
The Chinese economy is beginning to slow down. For the past two decades, it was (still is) the engine of global growth, but it left bitterness in its wake. And when Donald Trump takes issue with China about jobs and trade balance, he is not factually incorrect. The world has a problem with China, but has no alternative. Yet.
We can be that alternative, or at least lead it. India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines are in a straight line. Taiwan is up North from Philippines. This is a manufacturing belt. Together, it is a powerhouse. Many of these countries have serious problems with China. Japan is a technology powerhouse and a one time manufacturing hub. It still is in many ways globally relevant. The differences between Japanese and Chinese products are many but one feature stands out. Japanese products are global brands. The top motorcycle manufacturers in Japan are – Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki. And you, dear reader, have heard of all these brands.
The need of the hour is a TG7 (Trade Group 7) comprising of all these countries, coming together to form an alternative to China. We must share funding, technology and have mutually inclusive tax regimes. Let us have better flight connectivity, priority berths at ports and infrastructure sharing. Let us have funding a low interest rates and a land bank available to kick start manufacturing. And call charges, which are rock bottom. Are all these things easy? No. Not by a long shot. But this is what must be done. It is doable.
This is war by other means.
China’s real Achilles foot is free will. Any expression of free will is treated as an attack on the sovereignty of China. It is not just Uighur who are oppressed. The Han Chinese is a little better off. Many of you will remember the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The Chinese government did not take very kindly to its citizens, especially students, demanding democracy, economic reform and end to political corruption. All that the Chinese people were asking was for them to be able to choose their own leaders and overthrow corrupt ones out; something that we take for granted in India.
The Communist Party of China rolled out battle tanks on the streets of Beijing. Between a few hundred and a thousand protesters were killed and thousands were hunted down and imprisoned. The family members of pro-democracy protestors were systematically persecuted. The revolt spread to 400 cities and towns across China before it was brutally stamped out.
There are periodic protests in Hong Kong even today. Very recently, a few elected legislators of Hong Kong refused to take an oath of loyalty to China and instead floated banners, which proclaimed, “Hong Kong is not China”.
This is what India must take advantage of, this Chinese discomfort with democracy. Give a few thousand Indian sim cards to Chinese people on the Indo-China border, sim cards that allow access to Twitter and Facebook on Indian telecom networks. Let the Chinese folks discuss whatever it is that Chinese folks discuss when they are allowed to. That will scare China more than a mountain division. China is an ideological state. Only an idea can beat an idea.
Why have we forgotten the Dalai Lama, the original pinprick in China’s side? The Dalai Lama has a very influential fan following across the world. From opinion makers to Hollywood, from the US State Department to the EU Parliament, his is a respected voice. India must facilitate his travel and exposure at an international level. Let him tell stories of violence and genocide in Tibet.
Money is respected and that is exactly why no one points out that China is not a democracy, and has a terrible human rights record. If the world can single out Pakistan, North Korea and Cuba, why should China answer to different standards? But it does. Unfortunate though it may be, we must understand that it is temporary.
You may say, “China will be upset”. Well, China will always be upset with someone or the other about something or the other. Its intentions are hegemonic. It covets Arunachal Pradesh. It covets trade routes and the South China Sea. It covets what Japan already has. In short, China wants to expand geography. For that it needs influence and military power, which needs money, which in turn needs trade. And China’s growth hinges mainly upon its ability to contract manufacture at basement rates.
In a population of 1.5 billion people, in a fast growing hard-core capitalist (and in theory communist) nation, there is bound to be unequal growth and disquiet. Democracy is that valve that allows people to let off steam, so that the pressure cooker does not explode. China has no democracy and the pressure cooker is heating up. Economic superstardom has ensured that the people are kept quiet; the economic miracle is visible and the moral aspirations of the people have been suppressed. But for how long?
To question is human. And Baidu, China’s answer to Google, will not answer. If you are in China, try to search for “Tiananmen Square” using Baidu. Let me make it simpler for you. Go to Baidu and type “democracy in China” and press ENTER. Some experiences are instructive.
When TG7 offers the world an alternate to China’s manufacturing Goliath, the dollar fuelled submission to, and acceptance of, absence of democracy in China will start coming apart at the seams.
The earlier acceptance amongst the Chinese of the communist party’s totalitarian ways was due to ideology and fear. After Tiananmen Square, it is money and fear. Fear alone is not enough to keep men in line. Dollars are a better argument. And together, they are unbeatable. But they are unbeatable only till the time both are holding up.
TG7 will shift the center of gravity. It will gently nudge the world towards an alternative narrative. And it will nudge China towards an era when fear was the only glue holding the Middle Kingdom together; an era when Chairman Mao was ordering the killing of sparrows.
That is when the world will realize that the dragon was always a mythical creature.
And then the dragon will exist only in folklore.