By Dr Subhash Kapila
Perceptionaly as 2019 is ending, China’s 21st Century Emperor President Xi Jinping seemingly invincible with masterly control of all Party and Government organs under his absolute command seems to be losing that aura by being both externally and internally besieged that has serious implications for regional and global security and stability.
China in 2019 presents the spectacle where the first notable seeds of opposition to President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian iron grip over Chinese Communist Party apparatus and the Chinese Armed Forces have begun germinating. The internal turbulence so following within China inherently carries the dangers of increased Chinese military adventurism on its borders with which China has long-standing territorial disputes to divert public attention away from internal pressures by arousing Chinese nationalism impulses.
China’s unfolding external and internal siege arises mainly from President Xi Jinping’s policies of an imperial over-reach in all dimensions of China’s political functioning presumably fostered by years of unquestioned powerful authority of President Xi Jinping since he assumed power since 2013. President Xi Jinping could muster unquestioning authority and control by ruthless extermination of his potential challengers under the garb of eradicating corruption. This was more visible in his actions against PLA generals.
The heady mixture of China’s unparalleled economic growth coupled with exponential expansion of China’s military power induced in President Xi Jinping illusions of Chinese imperial grandeur and his authoring of the ‘Great China Dream’ of which the Belt & Road imitative and the Maritime Silk Route were the signature projects. The underlying rationale of such grandiose projects was patently strategic and not economic as China’s official rhetoric makes out to be.
China did not raise hackles of regional and global concern as long as its main thrust of expanding its area of influence was restricted to the economic domains. But when China under President Xi Jinping added its imperial expansionist designs to the strategic and military domains global and regional disquiet and concerns came to the fore.
China’s aggressive brinkmanship and establishing ‘Full Spectrum’ military control over the South China betrayed China’s intentions as this push came more markedly after President Xi Jinping assumed power. This military adventurism of China brought it in direct conflict with the United States and asserted by me in my writings years back that China thus contributed to the polarisation in Asia against China.
Externally today, China under President Xi Jinping stands besieged on all its flanks and peripheries with the exception of its contiguous borders with Pakistan and North Korea. Pakistan and China have figured as the only ‘Natural Allies’ of China more out of gratitude to China having contributed to build them up with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles arsenals and China thus ensuring that Pakistan and North Korea emerge as China’s proxy ‘regional spoiler states’.
China today stands besieged by the United States not only by the ongoing US-China Trade War with debilitating effects on China’s economy and hence China’s military expansion but also under pressure in the South China Sea by increased joint naval activity of United States, Japan, Australia and India too. China’s expansionist impulses in South China Sea are therefore being checkmated by US-led loose coalition of naval forces, though belatedly.
China’s global maritime strategic ambitions centring initially on Indian Ocean are also being checkmated by the loose coalition of naval forces stated above. In brief, China has not been able to muster any support or convergence of interests from any other country for sizeable Chinese Navy expansion in the Indian Ocean, except Pakistan.
Within Indo Pacific Region which spans the better part of Asia and the maritime expanses of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, China is at loggerheads with two of Asia’s other Major Powers—India and Japan. India and Japan stand out as strong pillars against any possible impulses of China to dominate the Asian strategic landscape fully. China has territorial disputes with both India and Japan and short of war can be said to be in a state of military confrontation with uneasy tensions pervading their relationships.
In South East Asia which China views as its own strategic backyard in the years following China’s aggression in the South China Sea even the ‘fence-sitter’ nations of ASEAN have now gravitated towards the United States as China’s creeping maritime claims started impinging on their sovereignty—Indonesia more notably.
Internally, reports based on leaked Top Secret official documents indicate that there is an ongoing power struggle taking place within the Party by elements unhappy with President Xi Jinping’s total control of all levers of Chinese State power. Economic slowdown which commenced before the onset of the US-China Trade War is likely to impact heavily on Chinese domestic politics dynamics. This could pick up steam if China does not relent from the US-China Trade War and continues to divert large swathes of China’s budget for defence expansion.
Notably, an increasing proportion of China’s defence budget is being spent on Internal Security Forces. This itself is revealing as it indicates that Chinese President Xi Jinping perceives that Internal Security challenges to his regime are mounting.
The above trend also accounts for the increased brutality being inflicted within China by President Xi Jinping’s regime in Xingjiang, China Occupied Tibet and now Hong Kong which is exploding.
Xingjian’s Muslim Uighur native population is under severe Chinese State suppression with over a million Uighurs in concentration camps for ideological reorientation of their beliefs which are in strong opposition to Chinese rule. Global media is focussing heavily on this aspect which makes China more frustrated as in the battle of perceptions China’s image is being sullied in a major way.
China Occupied Tibet has now for decades been suffering brutal Chinese suppression which is aimed at religious and cultural genocide of the Tibetan Buddhist population devoted followers of The Dalai Lama. China Occupied Tibet could have turned into China’s Afghanistan or Vietnam but that Tibetan population is not large and in recent years swamped by Chinese Army and Han settlers’ settled on Tibetan lands.
But nothing is more disconcerting for China in terms of an internal siege than the explosive situation generated by China in its Hong Kong policies. Unlike Xingjiang and China Occupied Tibet the violent pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are spearheaded by Hong Kong Chinese people themselves. They do not want Chinese-style authoritarian political governance.
Hong Kong’s explosive political violence could be a precursor to China imploding in internal politics challenging Chines Communist rule. China perceives it as such and so also the United States which stands challenged by China as a revisionist power.
It is for no reason other than the above which has prompted the US Congress to pass Bills castigating Human Rights abuses in Xingjiang and Hong Kong. China is bristling against this political onslaught by US Congress.
With Chinese President Xi Jinping externally and internally besieged as outlined above the pertinent question that arises is that whether China in 2019 is sitting on a gun-powder keg which could explode any time?
Logically China seems to be sitting on a gun-powder keg but the crucial issue is who will provide the incendiary spark to blow up the keg? Most likely it would be the Chinese people themselves awakened from the decades-old stupor of prosperity generated by high economic growth rates. With economy slowing down and under strategic external pressures aimed at the weakening of China’s aggressive arrogance in the Xi Jinping years domestic unrest could be the incendiary factor.
What are the options open to President Xi Jinping to forestall the above possibilities? Short of drastic political reforms and economic restructuring the Chinese President’s options are limited. On the external front any Chinese compromise by Chinese President with the United States would provide cannon-fodder to Xi’s political foes within the Chinese Communist Party.
Danger also exists that with mounting internal security disturbances on China’s peripheries President Xi may be tempted to resort to more brutal suppression both of minorities and of Han Chinese in Hong Kong. Such drastic measures could even generate cyclical blowbacks which may ultimately lead to President Xi’s downfall or external interests in stoking more incendiary unrest in China for strategic reasons
President Xi Jinping can therefore be said to be in an unenviable political control of China where the first seeds of opposition to his dictatorial control of Communist Party apparatus and command of the Chinese Armed Forces have begun germinating.
Concluding, one could fairly assert that all is not well in China under President Xi Jinping both on the external front and the internal front. When so besieged, authoritarian regime’s responses are usually more and added repression with brute force arising from the levers of State Power.