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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Chinese communism, Chinese nationalism

China’s evolution is very different from the West and the CCP’s legitimacy is based on the centrality of its capacity to guarantee China’s independence

Written by Subrata Mukherjee |
July 5, 2021 7:46:38 pm
A woman on her electric-powered scooter films a large video screen outside a shopping mall showing Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking during an event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of China's Communist Party at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Thursday, July 1, 2021.(AP)

The editorial ‘Xi’s Party’ (IE, June 3) is a critical account of Xi Jinping in the context of his rise and consolidation of power. The conclusion of the editorial that he has put the “nation and party at a dangerous path” both internally and externally is a grossly inadequate summation of his historic role and China’s exceptional history. It is often forgotten that Chinese exceptionalism is matched to American exceptionalism with different and contrasting narratives of historical evolution and future possibilities.

One hundred years of the CCP is an occasion for the Chinese to celebrate. Most importantly, disproving Western negativity, the phenomenal success, the unprecedented growth rate and eliminating poverty for 800 million people are reasons worthy of celebrations. It is not correct to say that the CCP has not accepted past mistakes and taken the necessary corrective measures. These have been the bases on which Deng Xiaoping initiated reforms that made possible the economic miracle that followed.

The Chinese model that Xi applauds is based on an impressive track record and its legitimacy is not limited to the renewal of the popular mandate as we are used to in liberal democracies, but in projecting a political structure that is free from compulsions of electoral politics. This was reinforced by multiple factors: The 2008 financial crisis which seriously questioned the efficacy of the American economic model; China’s infrastructure projects both domestic and international, and its collective strength in tackling the coronavirus pandemic effectively.

The entire effort of the CCP is to remind China and the world of the century of humiliation that it suffered because of the Western design to perpetuate China’s semi-colonial and semi-feudal order. The century that began with the Opium Wars denied China its rightful evolution and the supremacy that it enjoyed as the longest civilisational state in the world. Restoring China to its rightful place is not an ideological question but a nationalistic one, which the CCP intends to achieve by the acquisition of technology and achieving rough parity by facilitating frontier technology.

China is aware of the wide differences between the Cold War period and accepts the fact of an interdependent world. The BRI project is an example of that interdependence. The important point for China is the full restoration of its sovereignty in which all other considerations become secondary. It is aware of the earlier efforts led by Sun Yat-Sen, a western-educated statesman who wanted to follow Western democracy, but his efforts did not yield any success as the October 1911 Republican Revolution put him nominally in power but was unable to provide a stable government.

The May 4th movement reflected that the army functioned on the basis of personal loyalties and not to the state. The period from 1912 to 1933 was one of conflict which saw the increasing fragmentation of the country, reminding China of the primacy of unity. The CCP looks to the Kuomintang period as a nationalistic but corrupt one that led to China becoming a soft target for Japan in the 1930s and the latter brutally occupying Manchuria. The CCP also asserts that the heroic resistance of the Chinese was one of the major factors for Japan’s defeat in 1945.
1949 is looked to as establishing China’s independence and unity facilitating its great power status, prosperity, stability and peace. Nationalism being the driving force, the CCP accepts mistakes and setbacks, but emphasises the economic and cultural aspects that have made it secure and powerful. This reference by Xi not to accept any bullying is with regard to the unequal treaties that the Western powers and Japan inflicted on China in the past. The whole emphasis is about restoring China to its pre-1840 status. Russia suffered humiliation in the 1990s but only for 10 years while China has suffered for more than 100 years. The point is that China’s evolution is very different from the West and the CCP’s legitimacy is based on the centrality of its capacity to guarantee China’s independence. The most important point that it proclaims is that the West has no right to lecture China, and that China has every right to choose its own path and write its destiny. China endorses the Westphalian state system.

China reminds the West of its duplicity as well: When the latter invested so heavily, singularly contributing to China’s success, it did so without insisting on Beijing’s track record on human rights and democratic values. But these have now become of paramount importance with the rise of China as a formidable power and rival.

The writer retired as professor of political science, Delhi University

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