Tibetization of the world has begun

By Sushil Seth  / 

Tue, Nov 07, 2017 - Page 8

The party is over — that is, the 19h National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It was done with fanfare, although it was widely expected to deliver a thumping endorsement of the new messiah, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), now in the same league as Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

It was sad to see his predecessors, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Jiang Zemin (江澤民), trailing behind Xi in the staged procession on the dais looking like pathetic figures from a distant past acknowledging, by their presence, their downgrading and by the same act bestowing even greater legitimacy on the new order enshrining Xi’s pre-eminence.

At one time, in the TV pictures, Hu sought to talk to Xi about some thing or other, but the new “emperor” just had no time for his immediate predecessor.

From all the accounts of Xi’s great achievements in the five years he has been CCP general secretary, it would appear that the intervening period between Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) death and Xi’s ascension was time lost.

Before the party conference, there was a lot of build-up to highlight all these achievements. An advertising supplement from Chinese authorities in the Sydney Morning Herald featured a report of an entire exhibition at the Beijing Exhibition Hall on Sept. 25.

“The exhibition showcased the country’s progress over the past five years under the leadership of the CPC [CCP] with Mr Xi as the core,” the report said.

With Xi at the “core,” he is now the personification of the CCP and, for that matter, the state, because the two tend to be indistinguishable. And he has a dream to make China great again.

Xi has now had his own “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” enshrined in the CCP’s constitution and this will be “a guide to action for the entire party and all the Chinese people to strive for.”

With this as a guide, China will achieve global leadership by the middle of the century, with the CCP still at the helm of affairs. There will be none of this “nonsense” about Western democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and that kind of stuff. China will strive for social stability and orderly growth.

In his speech to the party congress, Xi sought to broadly lay down China’s broad trajectory.

Now that China had met the basic needs of its people, it would next work to become a “great modern socialist country” and, by 2035, a global leader in innovation, Xi said, adding that a second phase, of becoming a global leader in “national strength and international influence,” would take until the middle of the century.

This will go hand-in-hand with transitioning China from rapid growth to high-quality development. Which would mean integrating advanced manufacturing, the Internet, big data and artificial intelligence into the “real economy.”

In all this hoopla, there was no mention of the other China of nearly 500 million people, about 40 percent of China’s population, who live on less than US$5.50 per day, according to the World Bank.

China has undoubtedly made great economic strides, but it is necessary to keep a balanced perspective, as pointed out by People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川).

“If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call ‘Minsky moment,’” he said, referring to the US economist Hyman Minsky, who cautioned against too much money in the system fueling speculation that might lead to financial collapse.

Zhou said that China’s debt was very high.

According to the World Bank, China’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio, both public and private, was 304 percent.

Be that as it may, China is determined to push ahead.

In the global fight against climate change, for instance, Xi promised a “revolution in energy production” by building an energy sector that was “clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient.”

At a time when US President Donald Trump is dumping climate change and open markets, China is promoting its credentials.

Xi was very emphatic on the question of safeguarding China’s sovereign interests with a modernizing military force.

“No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests…,” such as China’s “steady progress” of constructing islands in the South China Sea, he said.

Dwelling on China’s “core” national assets, Xi issued a warning against Taiwanese independence in any form.

Within the country, he announced the continuation of the anti-corruption campaign, which has helped to get rid of his political foes.

And now, with the congress over, Xi is the undisputed ruler of China, with a CCP Standing Committee and politburo ready to do his bidding. Indeed, he has not even chosen or announced his political successor who, by convention, should succeed him after his second term, in 2022. This has given currency to the view that Xi might choose to stay on as the party’s general secretary and the country’s president for an indeterminate period.

During Xi’s presidency, what has perhaps attracted the most attention internationally is his much trumpeted “One Belt, One Road” project to connect the world through a network of road, rail, air and maritime channels, all of which would lead to China. It is the new vision to revive China’s glory as part of the Chinese Dream, with China once again as the Middle Kingdom.

As China is prepared to lend money for many of these incipient projects, it has incited interest and excitement among some countries. However, Australia has chosen to stay out of it for strategic reasons.

Interestingly, Tibetan government-in-exile President Lobsang Sangay, who was elected by the Tibetan diaspora several years ago, evoked his homeland’s example as a warning to the misplaced enthusiasm about this much hyped up Chinese project.

Speaking recently at the National Press Club in Canberra, he reportedly cautioned Australia, and by implication other countries, against the Chinese-sponsored Belt and Road project, citing how Tibet was annexed through one such highway project.

Sangay’s address is worth quoting at some length.

“If you understand the Tibetan story, the Chinese government [before the military takeover in the 50s] started building a road — our first-ever highway in Tibet,” he said.

“Now, we were promised peace and prosperity with the highway, and our parents and grandparents joined in building the road… so my parents told me the Chinese soldiers with guns were so polite, so nice, the kids used to taunt them and taunt them, they always smiled… Then they built the road,” he said.

“Once the road reached Lhasa — the capital city of Tibet — first trucks came, then tanks came. Soon, Tibet was occupied,” he said. “Then another strategy they deployed was ‘divide and rule,’ co-opting our ruling elite… They were paid, I think, in Australian context, huge consultation fees [a reference to how China is using this strategy in Australia to co-opt some of its elites].”

“So what you see in Australia and around the world — co-optation of ruling elites, getting high consultation fees, business leaders supporting the Chinese line of argument — we have seen all that in Tibet,” he said. “It started with the road. So that was the consequence of ‘One Belt, One Road’ in Tibet. And now it will be the world.”

“Sixty-eight countries reportedly have signed up with the Chinese project and Beijing is lining up more countries. The estimated cost is anywhere from US$1 trillion to US$4 trillion,” he said.

Take Pakistan’s case. The Dawn newspaper exposed a detailed 231-page Chinese plan for its 15-year infrastructure roll-out in Pakistan.

Dawn’s Khurram Husain described it (as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald) as “a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture.”

Sushil Seth is a commentator based in Australia.