Fri, Aug 18, 2006 - Page 8 News List

China's system likely to implode

By Sushil Seth

It would appear that China's former president and party general secretary Jiang Zemin (江澤民), is not quite ready yet to retire into political oblivion. He wanted a role like Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) as the ultimate arbiter of politics and policies even after retirement. And for this he sought to continue as head of the military commission. But the political arithmetic was against him and he had no choice but to relinquish his position.

He is, however, still trumpeting his achievements as the architect of China's foreign policy in his book For a Better World: Jiang's Oversees Visits. The publication of his book to coincide with his 80th birthday suggests that he still has enough authority to command the resources of his country's foreign ministry to research and put together what appears to be an exercise in self-promotion.

Even if his increased public visibility lately is not much of a threat to President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and his political establishment (to put the most charitable interpretation), he would be a thorn for his successor by simply popping up, especially close to the next party congress next year.

In his book, Jiang is said to have radically changed China's status in the comity of nations. This is, therefore, as good a time as any to examine China's foreign policy when its achievements are being lauded at home and abroad.

The 1970s saw a major change in China's foreign policy. During the 1960s, the Sino-Soviet political schism grew into a chasm, even leading to armed border clashes over the disputed Damansky island -- Chanpao to the Chinese. Beijing finally came to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was not only an ideological foe, but also a threat to its national security. And this led it to develop countervailing strategies.

At the same time the US, under then president Richard Nixon, was keen to further weaken the communist bloc (it was already under internal stress) and to hopefully ease the situation in Vietnam. Having China as a "strategic partner" was considered an important gain in the ongoing Cold War with Moscow.

The price of recognizing China (and severing ties with the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] regime in Taiwan) wasn't considered too high in this game of high political stakes. The 1972 Shanghai communique set the broad framework for normalization of relations, with formal diplomatic relations established in 1979.

With the death of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in 1976 and the subsequent smashing of the Gang of Four, Deng was able to ascend to power. The hapless Hua Guofeng (華國鋒), Mao's anointed heir, vanished into thin air.

The 1980s started the process of China's economic liberalization, with Deng sanctifying greed as China's new philosophy.

Beijing's economic opening coincided with the West's renewed interest in China and its seemingly endless opportunities. For the most part, the political climate in the 1980s was also benign with Beijing now a virtual strategic partner in the Cold War against Moscow.

Taiwan remained a problematic area because Beijing failed to rule out US support for it if it were attacked by China. This US commitment was enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

Things moved pretty well in China's relations with the US, Western Europe and even Japan, apart from the perennial problem of Japan's war guilt and its attempts to sanitize it.

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