Chinese President Xi Jinpings’ recent remarks to Chinese troops at a military base in Guangdong Province to put their mind and energy into preparing for war and call on them to be absolutely loyal, absolutely pure and absolutely reliable have made headlines. newspapers. Xi was inspecting the People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps in Chaozhou city and his remarks are seen as more belligerent rhetoric against the United States, neighboring South China Sea states and Taiwan to which Washington has recently decided to sell three advanced weapon systems.
But as I said before, much of the muscle flexing by current Chinese leaders is a cover for the huge internal changes taking place in China, and a tool to deflect criticism of the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthen the authority of Xi and the Chinese Communist Party. In this regard, Xis remarks urging Chinese troops to be absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable is interesting. Does Xi fear that parts of the People’s Liberation Army are not following its leaders? Do factions within the party-state system believe Xi is leading them down the wrong path? After all, it won’t be the first time that nationalist rhetoric has been deployed to mask internal cracks in the Chinese system. Nor will it be the first time that apprehensions have been expressed that the Chinese machine is not pulling in the same direction.
In Richard McGregors Asias Reckoning: The Struggle For Global Dominance, the author recalls a now-forgotten episode from the 1970s when the People’s Republic of China and Japan were on the verge of normalizing their relationship. In April 1978, a few months before the signing of the Peace and Friendship Treaty by the two countries, a swarm of around 200 Chinese fishing boats armed with small arms suddenly appeared in the waters around the disputed Senkaku / Diaoyu islands. in the East China Sea. The Japanese were stunned, especially when they discovered through radio interceptions that the ships were being directed from the ports controlled by the Chinese Navy in Shandong and Fujian. When the Japanese asked the Chinese leaders for an explanation, the latter simply told Tokyo to ignore the boats and assured that they had nothing to do with the treaty negotiations.
An important explanation for the appearance of the boats is that they were organized by remaining supporters of the then-imprisoned Gang of Four, the ultra-radical Shanghai faction, in order to undermine then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. The latter, after all, had wanted to put aside the dispute over the disputed islands in favor of a normalization of relations with Tokyo, then part of Beijing’s strategy to create a breathing space with the Soviet Union and possibly dig a ditch. between the United States and Japan. In fact, Deng had said that the dispute over the islands should be put aside for the next 10, 20 or even 100 years.
The episode shows that the Chinese state-party system is hardly a monolith. There are many factions and pressure points. True, Xi tried to eradicate the factions and put his authority on the system. He thinks he has to do it to save the Chinese Communist Party. As I said before, Xi really thinks he’s saving China from the fate that befell the former Soviet Union. Because, he thinks that the Chinese Communist Party has grown too big, with too many factions and centers of power. This allowed massive corruption within the party and discussions on alternatives to the current form of party leadership. By centralizing power in himself and those around him, Xi attempts to nullify any possibility of political alternatives and strengthen the party’s authority as the center of Chinese life.
However, considering the size of China and the size of the Chinese system, it is not an easy task to do, especially without interruption. In addition, there is always the possibility that a group within the party-state system goes undetected and tries to subvert the whole mechanism from within. This is what almost happened in 1978 with the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands and the Japan Treaty. This is perhaps what Xi fears the most and it is reflected in his remarks to Chinese troops in Guangdong. After all, Xis’ anti-corruption purge, constitutional changes, and the merging of party-state institutions may not have universal support in China. Perhaps this is why Xi, in his approach to foreign policy, is unduly aggressive and uses nationalism to try to rally all sections of Chinese society to his point of view. It’s an old thing.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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