By B. Raman
Stability maintenance and sovereignty assertion are the two sides of China’s strategic policy-making.
Stability maintenance refers to coping effectively with internal security problems which continue to confront the country in increasing measure not merely in the peripheral areas of Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia inhabited by ethnic minorities, but also in the Han-inhabited hinterland.
The Chinese Government and Communist Party have not succeeded in pacifying the ethnic minorities despite large-scale economic development, which has definitely improved the quality of life for the Muslim Uighurs and the Buddhist Tibetans and Mongols.
Despite their considerable intelligence, Chinese policy-makers have not been able to understand that man does not live by bread alone. He wants self-respect. He wants recognition of his unique personality and ethnic characteristics. He wants to be able to admire his own icons and choose his own leaders, instead of having to pay homage to icons and leaders imposed on him by the Government and the party.
The Chinese Government and Party have given the ethnic minorities enough and to eat, a quality of life the like of which they had not enjoyed before—modern roads and railways, modern telecommunications, modern technologies, opportunities for better education, better jobs with better salaries than in the past and modern medicare.
In spite of this, they have not been to create in the Tibetans feelings of loyalty to the Government and the Party and devotion to the Panchen Lama of the Party creation. Their loyalty and devotion continue to be to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and they yearn for the days when the Dalai Lamas used to live in their midst and spiritually guide them.
The ideologues of the Communist Party have not been able to understand the meaning and importance of spirituality. They think more and better quality bread is all that matters. The Uighurs and the Tibetans struggling for their self-assertion have shown with determination that they want more than bread, that they continue to be proud of their past and their ethnicity and that they want the spiritual and ethnic aspects of their past back.
The continuing clashes between the will of the State and the Party and the will of the individuals and their community are to be seen in the increasing flow of reports from the Tibetan and Uighur areas regarding self-immolations of Tibetan monks, protests by students and others over the attempts to impose the Han culture on them, the spread of the Be Tibetan, Speak Tibetan, Dress Tibetan and Live Tibetan non-coperation movement patterned after Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha against the British and violent clashes between Uighur youth and the security forces.
The dissatisfaction and alienation of the minorities have been compounded by the dissatisfaction of growing sections of even the Han majority over the arbitrary aspects of governance and decision making. This arbitrariness has been vividly demonstrated in land acquisitions in different parts of the country for the development of infrastructure and in the growing indifference of the affluent new class of the Party to the feelings, grievances and anger of the common man.
It is not only the ethnic minorities who have been asserting themselves. It is also the common man in the Han majority who has started asserting himself through protests, gherao (act of surrounding) of Government and party officials and resistance to the enforcement of arbitrary decisions.2011 was the year the common man in the Han community made himself seen and heard by the outside world.
There is a new destabilising factor on the horizon in China— the vast community of netizens, who have no access to the traditional Government and party controlled media, but who have been able to take advantage of their access to the virtual world to expose the affluence of the new class in the party and government, the unhappiness of the people and the lack of democracy and the arbitrariness in governance which have made the Chinese economic miracle possible.
Till now, the world has been dazzled by the Chinese economic miracle without realising at what human cost it has come. Thanks to the Chinese netizens, the world is gradually becoming aware of the darker side of the miracle.
Threats to China’s internal stability are increasingly an important factor in its strategic policy-making. Modernisation of the internal security apparatus has consequently been receiving greater budgetary allocations than the modernisation of its external security apparatus.
Despite their growing preoccupation with the internal security situation, the Chinese Government and Party have not given up or diluted their attempts to assert what they consider as their historic territorial sovereignty— whether in the East China Sea against Japan or South China Sea against some ASEAN countries or across the Himalayas against India. China’s preoccupation with its internal security problems should not induce us to underestimate its determination to assert its territorial sovereignty. Its pursuit of economic, military and Net power have two objectives— sovereignty assertion and power enhancement and projection. It has not allowed the increasing cost of internal stability maintenance to come in the way of enhancing its military strength and capabilities.
These are the ground realities of China today. Arising from these ground realities, three scenarios are possible in the coming years:
(a). Scenario I: The Chinese Government and Party are overwhelmed by a relentless assertion of the will of the common man, resulting in a collapse of communism in Chinese colours as a binding factor.
(b). Scenario II: Because of its internal security problems, China adopts a more restrained and a more moderate external posture and controls its assertive impulses.
(c). Scenario III: It gives free rein to its assertive impulses abroad in order to divert attention from its internal security problems and rationalise and justify its suppression of domestic dissidence.
It would be difficult to predict which scenario is more likely. All the three are equally possible. While hoping for the first or second scenario, India should not fail to prepare itself for the third. The lead-time available to India is already much reduced because of our tardy start, our belated realisation of the implications of a militarily strong China and our poor implementation of even the inadequate plans that we have drawn up for strengthening our infrastructure on the Chinese border and for modernising our armed forces.
Unfortunately, we continue to suffer from a Pakistan obsession in our thinking and planning. While we should continue to monitor Pakistan, our focus has to shift to China— whether in our intelligence community or in the armed forces or in our policy-makers or in our still vastly inadequate community of strategic thinkers.
(Prepared for my intervention during the session on “Strategy & Security Imperatives” at the seminar on India & China: The Way Forward being organised by the Chennai Centre For China Studies on March 16, 2012)