Two contending ideologies reemerge in the world

The 60th Year of China’s Tibet Invasion

Brahma Chellaney

The Sunday Guardian, May 3, 2010

Francis Fukuyama, a deputy director in the
U.S. state department then, gained
intellectual
stardom
by making the
self-righteous claim
in a 1989 essay that the conclusion of the Cold War marked the end of
ideological evolution, “the end of history,” with
the
“universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human
government.” Today’s world demonstrates that Western liberal democratic values
and practices are anything but universal.

But, more importantly, just as they were two contending
ideologies during the Cold War, two contending ideologies are again staring the
world in the face — international capitalism, spearheaded by an America whose
political and economic pre-eminence is on the wane even as it retains its
military supremacy, and authoritarian capitalism, led by a fast-rising China.

The rise of China as a world player in one generation under
authoritarian rule is the single most-profound geopolitical development since
after the collapse of the
Soviet Union. Its
rise epitomizes the qualitative reordering of power that is under way in the
world.

China’s future, however, remains more uncertain
than ever. It faces a worrisome paradox: Because of an opaque, repressive
political system, the more it globalizes, the more vulnerable it becomes
internally. At the core of its internal challenges is how to make a political
soft landing.

Political modernization, not economic modernization,
thus is the central challenge staring at
China.
But it won’t be easy for the communist leadership to open up politically without
unraveling a system that now survives on a mix of crony capitalism and
calibrated, state-dispensed patronage.

Unlike India, China first concentrated on acquiring
military muscle. By the time Deng Xiaoping launched his economic-modernization
program in 1978,
China already had tested its first
intercontinental ballistic missile, the 12,000-kilometer DF-5, and developed
thermonuclear weaponry. The military muscle gave
Beijing the much-needed security to focus on
civilian modernization, helping it to fuel its remarkable economic rise, which,
in turn, has armed it with ever greater resources to sharpen its claws. 

China’s economy has expanded 13-fold over the
last 30 years. Consequently,
China has arrived as a global
economic player, with its state-owned corporate behemoths frenetically buying
foreign firms, technologies and resources. Add to the picture its rapidly
swelling foreign-exchange coffers, already the world’s largest.
Beijing is well-positioned
geopolitically to further expand its influence.

Its defence strategy since the Mao Zedong era has been
founded on a simple premise — that the capacity to defend oneself with one’s own
resources is the first test a nation has to pass on the way to
becom
ing a great power. So, even when
China was poor, it
consciously put the accent on build
ing comprehensive national power.

Communist China actually began as an
international pariah state. Today, it is courted by the
world.
  As the latest
U.S. intelligence assessment
predicts,
China is “poised to have more impact
on the world over the next 20 years than any other country.”

A long-term
strategic vision and unflinching pursuit of goals have been key drivers. But
China’s rise also has been aided by
good fortune on several fronts. Deng Xiaoping’s reform process, for instance,
benefited from good timing, coinciding with the start of globalization. The
Soviet Union’s sudden collapse also came as a great strategic boon, eliminating
a menacing empire and opening the way for
Beijing to rapidly increase strategic space
globally. A succession of China-friendly
U.S. presidents
since Richard Nixon also has helped.

The most important international factor in
China’s rise, however, is rarely
discussed.
China’s rise owes
a lot to the West’s decision not to sustain trade sanctions after the
1989 Tiananmen
Square
massacre, but instead to integrate Beijing with global
institutions through the liberalizing influence of foreign investment and trade.

The end of the Cold War allowed the United States and its allies to take a more
tolerant approach toward
China by abjuring sanctions. Had the
U.S. treated
China post-1989 in the way
countries like
Burma,
Iran and Cuba have been targeted for long, a less
prosperous and more insecure
China would have
emerged.

Although China has come a long way since Tiananmen
Square, with its citizens now enjoying property rights, the freedom to travel
overseas and other entitlements that were unthinkable two decades ago, political
power still rests with the same party responsible for the death of tens of
millions of Chinese in state-induced disasters like the so-called Great Leap
Forward and the Cultural Revolution.  That the communist party continues to
monopolize power despite its past horrific excesses indeed is astonishing. This
is now the oldest autocracy in the world. And it is unthinkable that it can
survive for another 60 years. Before long,
economic progress will challenge the adamantine political
system.
The longest any autocratic system has
survived in modern history was 74 years in the
Soviet
Union
.

The threat
to the communist dictatorship extends beyond the ethnic and social unrest.
Reported incidents of grassroots violence have grown at about the same rate as
China’s GDP. The ethnic challenges —
best symbolized by the Tibetan uprising and the Uighur revolt — won’t go away
unless
Beijing
stops imposing cultural homogeneity and abandons ethnic drowning as state
strategy in minority lands. But given the regime’s entrenched cultural
chauvinism and tight centralized control, that is unlikely to happen. After all,
President Hu Jintao’s slogan of a “harmonious society” is designed to undergird
the theme of conformity with the state.

China’s challenges actually center on its
political future. Although
China has moved from being a
totalitarian state to being an authoritarian state, some things haven’t changed
since the Mao years. Some others indeed have changed for the worse, such as the
whipping up of ultra-nationalism as the legitimating credo of continued
communist rule. Unremitting attempts to bend reality to the dangerous illusions
the state propagates through information control and online censors risk turning
China into a modern-day Potemkin
state.

Today, China’s rapidly accumulating power raises
concerns because even when it was backward and internally troubled,
it
employed brute force to annex Xinjiang (1949) and
Tibet (1950), to raid South Korea (1950), to invade India (1962), to initiate a border conflict with
the Soviet Union through a military ambush
(1969), and
to attack
Vietnam (1979). A prosperous,
militarily strong
China cannot but be a threat to its
neighbours, especially if there are no constraints on the exercise of Chinese
power.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of China
becoming India’s neighbour — by gobbling up the traditional buffer, Tibet, which
was almost two-thirds the size of the European continent. As a result of that
event, Han soldiers arrived for the first time on
India’s
borders. Yet
India is officially celebrating 2010
as the year marking 60 years of Sino-Indian diplomatic relations. Does this
reflect low self-esteem or a refusal to face up to a harsh six-decade-old
reality?  

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