Those loyal to Xi Jinping Thought believe that before the deep state elements that they claim are all over the White House succeed in inflicting the demonic system of democracy on the PRC, it is an existential imperative that US and India must undergo a steady dilution of their comprehensive national power, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
There is a spectre that is haunting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but before going into detail about that, a bit of history may usefully be told. The Communist Manifesto authored by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began by pointing out that “A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism”. It was not just in Europe that the ideology concretised by Marx and Engels first triumphed, but across Eurasia, represented by the acknowledged Eurasian power, Russia. In 2017, Vladimir Illyich Lenin established the communism-suffused Bolsheviks as the ruling party of that vast country.
Pragmatically, the Bolshevik supremo cut an informal deal with the German military-state that was conducting a war against Czarist Russia. When the royal regime crumbled and was replaced by a collection of social democrats led by Alexander Kerensky, the new leader made the terminal error of continuing the war against Germany at the behest of France and Britain, both of whom had been strong backers of the less than outstandingly bright Czar Nicholas and had mourned his abdication in 1918, although neither subsequently offered him and his family shelter. There was public discontent at the way in which life for the overwhelming majority of the Russian people had deteriorated even before the war against Germany.
This was ignited in 1914 by the decision of the Czarist authorities to go in for a full mobilisation of troops along the front with Germany, preparatory to launching an attack. This triggered a declaration of war against Russia and France by Germany, followed by a similar declaration of war against Britain, an ally of France. The miscalculation in the relative capacities of Germany and its partner Austria vis-a-vis Britain and France cost Germany the war that followed the guidebook established by the bombastic Kaiser Wilhelm, who at the end of the war in 1919 went into retirement together with a lady friend.
Marshals Hindenburg and Ludendorff were held to a blood-soaked stalemate by Britain and France on the battlefield, but cut through the millions of carelessly mobilised, ill-equipped and demotivated Russian troops with murderous efficiency. Meanwhile, the Russian economy went into a free fall, and the Czar and Czarina (who was of German extraction and was widely regarded within the country her husband ruled as an agent of the Kaiser) went into captivity in 1918 and were executed along with their children by a Bolshevik-controlled local government in July of the same year.
Lenin gained immense popular support by his “Peace and Land” slogan, promising the distribution of land from feudal landlords to the peasants, and an immediate end to the war. Kerensky was toppled in the October Revolution, which was speeded up by revolts within the military caused by fatigue with the war, and a cease-fire with German forces came into effect, despite efforts by some of Lenin’s associates to get him to change his mind and continue the war. Expropriation of land from large holders began, and what was seen as the implementation in practice of Lenin’s slogan of “Peace and Land” fuelled support for the Red Army, which prevailed within a year over what was named the White forces that were seeking to bring them down. The spectre of communism had arrived in the shape of the ruling establishment of the largest country in the world, and the embodiment of Eurasia (rather than simply Europe, despite efforts by what is known as the St Petersburg school of thinkers to portray Russia as exclusively a European power, which perhaps not coincidentally was the formulation accepted by the last President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev).
SPECTRE OF DEMOCRACY HAUNTS CCP
The spectre haunting the CCP is not communism, an ideology that has been tamed and utilised by it, but democracy. Xi Jinping Thought in its operational sense holds that democracy as practised in countries such as India and the US is a virus that can be deadly to the future of the Chinese people. Hence the fear of contagion of this dangerous school of thought spreading within the population of the PRC. People there, and later elsewhere in whatever territories have begun to accept Beijing’s dominance, need to be inoculated against such a possibility, or be cleansed of faith in democracy, if these countries be democratic. This would be through unceasing (and often covert) campaigns in which several information pathways and activity silos get utilised.
In the catechism of the CCP, only party members truly represent the Chinese people, and within the party, unquestioning obedience up the hierarchical ladder is deemed essential to a country’s stability and progress. The PRC is showcased as an example of the truth of such a portrayal. In China, authority is concentrated in the General Secretary of the CCP (or the party supremo, in case he has a different title in the way that Deng Xiaoping had from 1981 onwards). The level of authority is in a range much above than found in democracies, where Presidents and Prime Ministers have much less power over events and people than the CCP supremo has. Within the (mainly economic) policy construct dictated by him, Deng had a light touch, allowing his subordinates freedom provided they kept to his line.
Jiang Zemin used his authority to ensure that those regions and groups favoured by him got generous helpings of the national cake, while Hu Jintao quietly built up the comprehensive national power of the PRC, but otherwise functioned within the restricted ambit prescribed by Deng, who inter alia introduced collective consideration of policy and a 10-year limit on the tenure of a General Secretary, out of fear that a new Mao Zedong may emerge. In 2012, with the assumption of the General Secretaryship by Xi Jinping (who was anticipated to be averse to Mao’s methods, given that his family was humiliated during the Cultural Revolution), many in China and abroad thought that the era of political reform had begun. This would complement the economic reform launched from the 1980s by Deng
XI JINPING THOUGHT AVERSE TO DEMOCRACY
With the benefit of hindsight in studying the ideological configuration of CCP General Secretary Xi, several of his earlier speeches and writings can be interpreted as an enthusiastic endorsement of Mao Zedong Thought, rather than merely pay lip service to it, as has been the case with several CCP grandees. Xi’s contempt for the West and for those in China (especially party members) who are sympathetic and even admiring of western systems and values comes out in his earlier public appearances. Just as Deng fashioned the concept of capitalism with Communist Chinese characteristics, Xi has altered and adapted Mao Zedong Thought to meet the needs of the 21st century. In other words, Xi has a manner of thought and action very different from his immediate predecessors, Jiang and Hu.
However, unlike Mao, Xi Jinping has embraced the much celebrated “5,000-year history of China”, even honouring the philosopher from more than two millennia ago whose teachings Mao had condemned, Confucius. Xi Jinping Thought holds that the CCP and its ideology is an organic development within the continuum of five millennia of Chinese civilisation rather than a repudiation of it. Mao Zedong Thought has been embraced mostly in its passion to return to the PRC the centrality of the Middle Kingdom once again. In contrast, Mao had worked since the 1930s to fashion a new template that in his view represented a break from the past, although in actuality, Great Helmsman Mao was very much the Red Emperor, the mantle that is now being placed on Xi by the CCP
General Secretary Xi has shown an aversion to religion, including Buddhism, which he appears to regard as a cultural import from India, a country the potentialities of which he is wary. This is unusual, as both during Jiang’s as well as Hu’s time, Buddhism in particular was tolerated. In the Xi era, Buddhism is merely a pathway towards gaining friends in other countries and not something that should be encouraged in his own country. In Xi Jinping Thought, a concentration of powers moves up the hierarchical ladder of the CCP, finally vesting not in a collective of senior leaders but in a single person as was the case with Mao.
This is the important difference from the Jiang and Hu periods, although Xi believes along with them that it is indispensable for a stable and rising China to be ruled by the CCP. Such governance is essential if centripetal forces are to be prevented from being unleashed within China, in the way that took place so many times in the past. This was during periods when the country was divided into feuding principalities, much the way Japan had been before that country was unified by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was appointed Shogun in 1603 by the (almost powerless but nevertheless revered) Emperor at Edo. This was after Ieyasu had defeated other feudal lords in battle after battle. In Xi Jinping Thought, democracy is a poisonous western doctrine that, if allowed to take root in China, will break up the country by melting down its institutions, its economy and its society.
Judging by many of his actions taken by Xi especially since 2013, it would appear that Xi has bought into the hypothesis that the West (led by the US) seeks precisely such a fate for China, by constantly touting the benefits of democracy to the Chinese people. The primal nature of this belief in the intentions of the US in particular and its dissemination across the membership of the CCP began long before Xi, who has put the project for inoculating the Chinese people against democracy on steroids. The effects of this on policy in the world’s other superpower appear to have been underestimated by several policymakers in the democracies, with John Kerry as a visible example of such complacency. In almost all major democracies, there have been groomed substantial lobbies still fixated on the belief that the CCP would evolve into a social democratic construct in the manner that the KMT did in Taiwan during the 1990s. Wall Street in the US (although not Main Street any longer) remains wedded to the “peaceful rise” theory, not least because of its financial benefits to several of its entities.
XI GIVES PRIMACY TO MILITARY
It is said that “All is fair in love and war”, and while Xi appears to be impervious to the former emotion (except in the case of his glamorous wife and talented daughter), it is evident that the prospect of even a kinetic war has been uppermost in his mind. Under its Chairman since 2012, Xi Jinping, the Central Military Commission has become the primary sieve through which much of economic and foreign policy gets conducted, and is an institution with which Xi has maintained close contact over nearly four decades of his career. From the premise that the White House is masterminding a global effort designed to break up the PRC and reduce the governance system created by the CCP to rubble, it follows that any and all measures are acceptable (indeed, essential) in the fightback against such a devious design. This fightback has involved the seizure of land and sea that is regarded by the generals as useful to the PLA in a kinetic conflict.
This expansion of space directly controlled by Beijing is being done openly by Xi, whereas it was carried out on a smaller scale by stealth under Hu Jintao, the General Secretary under whom the PLA began to get back the primacy that it had over CCP policy from 1936 until the withdrawal of KMT forces to Taiwan in 1949. Once the PRC was set up, Mao established “the control of the party over the gun”, a policy continued by Deng after the disastrous “war of punishment” with Vietnam in 1979. Jiang Zemin kept the uniformed services happy by pay raises and promotions, but made sure they did not get anywhere near the driver’s seat on policy. That remained the prerogative of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, with Jiang at the helm.
TARGETS: US AND INDIA
Although he was respectful of the primacy over policy of the Standing Committee, Hu Jintao as General Secretary gave substantial licence to the PLA, provided that its expansionary forays, whether in the Himalayan range or the South China Sea, was carried out by stealth. The exception to such a rule was Taiwan, but even here, Hu sought to conciliate more than provoke, a policy which worked to the electoral benefit of the KMT over the DPP. Although the former is regarded as being close to the PRC, in actuality several within its leadership have much closer affiliation with the US. This irks Xi, who wants the KMT to be responsive only to Beijing and not at all to Washington. Under Xi Jinping, the restraints in dealing with Taiwan have been coming off. The expansion of space, assets and capabilities in different theatres once Xi took charge have made matters difficult for apologists of the CCP in the US and India.
They are being pressed to explain why the PRC should be regarded as being threatening only in appearance and atmospherics but not in intent and effect. Those loyal to Xi Jinping Thought believe that before the deep state elements that they claim are all over the White House succeed in inflicting the demonic system of democracy on the PRC and kneecap the CCP, it is an existential imperative that to prevent such a fate, the US and India, the two biggest democracies, must in the first instance undergo a steady dilution of their comprehensive national power. This is expected to deter Washington from inserting its kinetic capabilities in any kinetic PLA operation, whether in Taiwan or with multiple points on the LAC with India. An objective that sought to be achieved by using business links, “influence operations”, scare and stun into acceptance the acceptance of the forces of the PRC, whether these be kinetic, cyber or otherwise.
Developments in the US are being closely monitored within the CMC, and it is a matter of satisfaction for its generals that Donald Trump has in several ways turned into a major asset in the comprehensive conflict that is being waged against the US. Even as US President, the 45th President had in the midst of his confrontation scored some goals for the PRC, such as when he withdrew from the TPP and treated his allies not as partners in security but as a piggybank for the US Treasury or US companies. There is disappointment that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package was passed by the US Congress, as it was expected to fail. Unsurprisingly, the “Squad”, the line of which is often set by the energetic Wahabi member of this quartet, sought to defeat Biden’s infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives.
Fear of Trump has prevented most Republicans in the US Congress from going by the national interest and voting for the bill. Should the $1.8 billion social security and climate bill get passed, it would cause dismay not just in Mar-a-Lago (the Trump hideaway) but in Beijing, as such a step would over the next few years significantly improve the comprehensive national power of the US. Among other things, the attempt by Xi is to position China as indispensable in the production and dissemination of green technologies, and this would be under severe challenge, were the second Biden bill to get passed. Again, expectations are that a combination of DINOs (Democrats in Name Only), the substantial Sino-Wahabi influence on the US Congress and the machinations of Trump will ensure that the bill be defeated. Should this happen, the CMC believes that President Biden’s will to defend democracies that are under direct kinetic attack by the PRC will be rendered inoperative. He would be a “lame duck” in the very first year of his term in the White House.
UNDERESTIMATING THE SINO-WAHABI ALLIANCE
Thus far, major democracies seem to have underestimated the extent of intrusion of the Sino-Wahabi alliance in the case of India and the Sino-Russian alliance in the case of the US within social media. This is part of the ongoing “influence operations” effort by the CMC to empower the fringe and reduce the moderate middle in both democracies. It cannot be said that this strategy has been entirely unsuccessful this far, looking at the manner in which polarisation has been galloping in both democracies and affecting social and policy stability.
Democracy is sought to be portrayed within substantial segments of the population of the major democracies as being a system that is incapable of delivering benefits to the people, while the authoritarian model is being presented as the system that works most effectively in converting poverty into prosperity. This has resulted in some democracies increasing the role of government vis-a-vis private industry in the manner witnessed in India during 1951-84, a policy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wisely warned against in 2014.
END THE AGE OF ILLUSION
During the third decade of the 21st century, geopolitical shifts will create situations that would generate in some countries a “Czar outcome”, similar to that witnessed in Moscow during the 20th century. An all-powerful autocrat and the system revolving around him will collapse because of faulty decisions, as did Czarist rule in Russia in 2018, followed by massive convulsions in society and the economy in the affected country. There will be a country that replicates the experience of 20th century Poland, where the population will pay a steep price for its leaders misreading of the geopolitical currents and avoiding of the policy changes needed to prevent disaster, as Poland experienced from 1939 to 1944, and again (to a lesser extent) from the next year to 1989, when the system modelled on the USSR collapsed.
Cold War 1.0 was an existential battle between competing and contradictory systems, which only ended with one side losing. Cold War 2.0 is an existential battle between the authoritarian system of governance and the democratic. The CCP under Xi Jinping, and in particular the CMC now controlled by his chosen appointees, understands this and has sought to tailor policy accordingly. What is needed is for the “Age of Illusion” to end in major democracies. Some of these are already the target of the CMC’s “comprehensive war strategy”, while many of the others will be, should the initial targets succumb to the strategies being used against them. More and more policymakers in the major democracies have begun understanding the existential nature of the internal and external threat that they are facing. This will assist in enabling them to avoid mistakes that may act as a force-multiplier for the other side, and to design and carry out policies that would ensure they prevail in this 21st century version of the Cold War that is taking place between the world’s two superpowers and their respective allies and partners—two superpowers with mutually-incompatible systems of governance and outlook.