GTA5

Insularity, inequality, conformity, discord with neighbours – these didn’t make America No 1

Descriptions of a shining city across the river with its incandescent nocturnal skyline and pulsating energy might lead some readers to think of New York, but I am referring to Shanghai. It was here that, in July 1921, the Communist Party of China was founded in the presence of Mao Zedong. In the ensuing 100 years Shanghai and the Party mirrored each other’s rise. This year, in the midst of a global pandemic, the two remain apparently unscarred, their allure magnified by their seeming ability to shrug off the devastation.

As the Chinese Communist Party begins its second century next month, China appears poised on the brink of greatness or, as its general secretary is wont to say, it is closer than ever to being at the centre of the world stage.

Chad Crowe

With a GDP of $14.72 trillion in 2020, that is projected to come within striking distance of the world leader, the United States, by 2025 ($22.481 trillion), with a military that is expected to become world class by 2035, and with her diplomatic influence substantially enhanced by the capacity to provide capital and technology across the world, comparisons with the America of the inter-war period (1914-45) are inevitable.

Just like the American economy boomed and her global influence expanded while the Old World (Europe) was exhausting itself through two world wars, China’s economy and influence have grown significantly while America spent much blood and treasure dealing with the aftermath of the Cold War and two hot wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at the turn of this century. The once-in-a-century pandemic has outwardly accelerated China’s rise, and the question on everyone’s lips is whether we may be witness to the start of the Chinese Century.

Comparisons may be odious, but serve a purpose. America’s rise as global hegemon was outwardly manifested by its booming economy and powerful military, but it was also accompanied by significant changes domestically.

– First, post-war American politics became less elitist, allowing for men of relatively modest means like Truman, Nixon and Obama to assume the presidency, and to bring fresh ideas into politics. China’s politics are, to the contrary, becoming more straitjacketed. The new Party rules and regulations since 2013 stipulate narrow qualifications for membership and regulate political discourse within a thin band of acceptable ideas.

Purges and rectification that have begun since 2020 to, in the Party’s own words, ‘scrape the poison from the bones’ are making Chinese politics more conformist and elitist. The Communist Party is the sole avenue for politics and the sole determinant for what constitutes legitimate political expression in China.

– Second, the post-World War II witnessed America dealing with troubling historical issues of race. The passage of the Civil Rights Acts (1957, 1961 and 1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) drew the African-American community into the political mainstream, thereby strengthening its fabric. China is doubling down on the ethnic minorities by ‘sinicising’ their culture and faith and by curtailing even the limited political identity that the Chinese constitution guarantees them.

We are unlikely to see a Chinese Rosa Parks or a Martin Luther King any time soon. Domestic inequality and discrimination may be unsustainable for long-term stability which is a key Communist Party objective.

– Third, these were the years when America also opened her doors to immigration, drawing in the best talent and allowing a free exchange of ideas that benefitted the American economy and spread the American way of life across the globe, immeasurably enhancing her power. China’s Communist Party is building virtual walls to control the cross-border flow of people and information.

In the process, China appears to be turning away from foreign influences from which it benefitted during its emergence as a world-class economy. Even the world of Chinese business is sought to be controlled by the Party, as the fall of Jack Ma and Ant Financial recently showed. The US also had its antitrust laws, but the key difference is that it regulated big business through a transparent process.

– Fourth, American hegemony was established by demonstrating cordiality and generosity in the periphery and to the proximate States. Goodwill nearer home secured American power in distant seas. The attractiveness of American power lay as much in her benign influence (with exceptions obviously) as in the Marshall Plan.

In the past decade the Chinese have tested the patience of their neighbours on land and in the seas. The Belt & Road Initiative may be grander in design and much greater in dollar terms to US economic assistance in her heyday, but China has still not won the trust of her neighbours. Instead, she believes in their worst intentions and acts in ways to give them reason to mistrust.

On the surface, China’s stability and growth are enviable. Democracies struggle with both. The Chinese Communist Party claims to be loved by the Chinese people for providing development without democracy, and, in that process, demonstrating the superiority of the Beijing model. Yet it is difficult to explain why China’s Communist Party leaders repeatedly exhort the importance of tight socio-political control, or why they would portray genuine differences of opinion or diversity of ideas as threats to China.

When their leaders say that the fortress is most likely to be breached from the inside, does it in fact point to their innermost fears about the fragility and brittleness of their vaunted system despite their outward display of confidence? President Xi Jinping declared at Davos this year that history is moving forward. The world may not go back but the lessons of history are worth pondering over.



Linkedin


Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



END OF ARTICLE



Tags
Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Close
Close