The CCP: self-serving and loving it
By Sushil Seth
Wednesday, Jan 18, 2006,Page 8
China's growing power is creating unease among a number of countries. The US, of course, has raised concerns about China's lack of transparency on its strategic doctrine and ambitions considering that its military budget rises by double-digit figures annually. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso recently said that the steady rise in China's military budget constituted a threat to his country. He also maintained that this was arousing suspicion in a number of Asian countries.
Beijing is apparently aware of growing concern internationally about its expanding power and lack of transparency. Otherwise, it wouldn't be trying to assure all and sundry that its brand of development is not a threat to any country. Indeed, according to them, it benefits the entire world.
A recent white paper on China's foreign relations claims that, "China's road of peaceful development is a brand new one for mankind in pursuit of civilization and progress."
For added emphasis, it says, "China did not seek hegemony in the past, nor does it now, and will not do so in the future when it gets stronger."
Really? Some of its neighbors who ended up as part of the Chinese empire or as tributaries might disagree.
Beijing's worry now is how best to sell its "rise" in the most non-threatening way. According to Professor Robert Skidelsky, "Part of the problem lies in the use of the word `rise,' which suggests something open-ended. Although some Chinese officials talk about China's `rise' ... others prefer to talk about its `restoration'... signifying a restoration of a disturbed natural order of states [rather] than a hegemonic design."
A restoration of the old order, with China as the Middle Kingdom, seems even more menacing, suggesting a settling of scores for disturbing China's "natural" hegemony. However one looks at it, there is no non-threatening way of picturing or projecting China's "rise."
Beijing is worried that comparisons are already being drawn between its "rise" and the way Japan burst onto the international scene late in the 19th century, eventually causing mayhem all around. Japan's aggression and occupation of Asian countries (including parts of China) before and during World War II, still haunt its neighbors. Indeed, China is unhappy that Japan is seeking to whitewash its historical sins by rewriting history books to blot out wartime atrocities.
China's take on this -- that history will repeat itself, with China as the new fearsome kid on the block -- is that it will be different because the world has changed. Its spokesmen argue that, "It's not like in the past when powers had to expand territorially in order to get markets."
Beijing thinks it is doing things differently. It is simply trying to corner supplies, wherever it can, for scarce resources like oil, while simultaneously creating and expanding markets for its low-priced manufactured goods. In China's new world of global capitalism, it is able to undercut other economies through its skewed currency mechanism and low manufacturing costs.
What is this, if not a scenario for a future conflict -- territorial expansion or otherwise? Japan too traveled down this road, which created conditions for the war in the Pacific.
Beijing's white paper, however, says, "To stick to the road of peaceful development is the inevitable way for China to attain national prosperity and strength and its people's happiness ... Therefore, China's development will never be a threat to anyone."
Whether or not China believes its own rhetoric, it is certain that it wants everyone else to.
While Beijing talks of China's "peaceful rise" in the international arena, at home it talks of creating a "harmonious society," notwithstanding the fact that the number of protests across the country reached 74,000 in 2004, up from 10,000 in 1994.
All this is probably the tip of the iceberg, because there is much more unrest going on in the countryside that the outside world never gets to hear about.
At the same time, the urban landscape looks like the explosive mix described by John Friedmann in his book China's Urban Transition. He writes: "The heady mix of fragmented markets, profiteering, administrative land transfers, speculation, endemic corruption, increasingly desperate attempts to uphold the pyramid-like system of central control over local affairs, gung-ho capitalism, ancient poverty, and crass new wealth give the appearance less of calm stateliness of 1920s Beijing ... than of a frenzied construction site."
China bridles with so many contradictions that it sometimes looks like a powder keg ready to explode. The major contradiction is between its "socialist market economy" (capitalism) and the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power.
According to Skidelsky, when he commented on this to a party official on a recent visit, the official shot back: "Capitalism for now, socialism for later. Capitalist development means more inequality. Socialism will be needed to correct it. Much better to have the Communist Party in power through both stages than have another revolution."
You have to hand it to the party machine for its ingeniously self-serving explanations.
Despite the glaring contradictions of all sorts that are enveloping China, its leadership still talks of creating a "harmonious society." And they hope to do this by modernizing Marxism -- whatever that means.
According to a Washington Post report from Beijing, "The undertaking [to modernize Marxism], which coincides with an 18-month campaign to reinvigorate the party's rank and file, seems to be a response to complaints about the chasm between official discourse in Beijing -- which emphasizes `socialism with Chinese characteristics' -- and the growing reality of often unbridled capitalism in which party officials are eager partners."
In this exercise, Professor Zhou Yezhong (周葉中) at Wuhan University has been playing a leading role in educating the top leadership on how to repackage Marxist ideology with democratic ideas of human rights, rule of law and so on.
But it has turned out that Zhou's packaging of ideas is plagiarized from Wang Tiancheng (王天成), a former Beijing University professor.
Wang was imprisoned for five years in 1992 for trying to form a political party. He reportedly used an Internet forum to denounce Zhou's work. By his account, his book The Constitutional Interpretation of Republicanism was quoted "word for word" in Zhou's recent publications.
The party's propaganda department is now trying to hush up the whole thing.
This will not deter them from trying to reconcile the irreconcilable which is present-day China. Where this will take China is another story.
Sushil Seth is a writer based in Australia.