Tuesday 2 September 2014

Xi As The Undoer Of Deng, Continued

I read a very interesting piece over at the Peking Review on Xi's apparent rejection of Deng's low-profile foreign policy, in contrast to the assertive policy of the Mao era:
A phrase that is making the rounds among China watchers is “tao guang yang hui.” I will not attempt to explain the concept: any brief explanation would hide too many nuances, and nuances are important here. I just watched an online debate amongst some of my more scholarly friends, and the battle was about different interpreteations of of the phrase.

One interpretation of the phrase is captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “keep a low profile and bide your time, while also getting something accomplished.” Given the noises China has been making in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Indian frontier, and Hong Kong, it appears to some that China has abandoned the tao guang yang hui strategy altogether.
The piece echos a sentiment also expressed in response to the PRC government's announcement that Hong Kong was to be denied meaningful democracy: that the modern-day PRC government under the leadership of Xi Jinping had rejected the pragmatism of the Deng era.
Distrust of the Chinese Communist Party runs deep in Hong Kong, a city built largely by refugees from famine and party-sponsored political violence in mainland China. Deng Xiaoping understood this, and deftly worked around it.

His formula for recovering Hong Kong from Britain in 1997—One Country, Two Systems—was an acknowledgment that the party's credibility in Hong Kong was low and that if it simply moved in and took over it would destroy public confidence and likely wreck the economy. Hence, Hong Kong was allowed to keep its British-style law courts and administration. And it was promised democratic elections for its future leaders.

Today's Chinese leadership shows far less willingness to embrace such political pragmatism, or to employ subtlety and compromise in its dealings with the territory.
For anyone who cared to look, the signs that Xi Jinping would strike a much more strident tone than the technocratic Hu/Wen team, or the mildly reformist governing style of Jiang Zemin, were there even before he assumed power. The turning point for me was the crack-down of 2011, when controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested, as well as many others. Back then I wrote:
It is easy to see where the impetus for this crack-down is coming from. We may be more than a year away from the beginning of Xi Jinping's reign, but it is hard not to see the same crude artlessness in these arrests that Xi has betrayed in many of his public pronouncements.

I hope I'm wrong, but I cannot rid myself of the idea that Xi's rule is going to be disastrous for both the CCP and China. It is hard not to think that we are seeing the end of the balancing act that the CCP has so successfully conducted these past 32 years, and the beginning of an unashamed totalitarianism which few in the CCP ranks want, even if their new leader apparently does. The relatively subtle touch introduced by Deng in 1979 risks being undone, if not the economic reforms of that year and later.
Everything we've seen this year, both internally in the "anti-corruption" campaign that seems to only find corruption amongst Xi Jinping's political enemies, and externally in the assertive tone of China's new foreign policy, supports this analysis.


justrecently said...

Just commented at the original post:

Deng is said to have prescribed two generations of leadership. I don't think he could tell at the time where China would be in 2014. Therefore, my best guess would be that this is neither a continuation nor a rejection of the Deng heritage. it's a gradual change in Chinese policy which makes sense, for example, for the Chinese energy sector, but also for the military-industrial complex. I don't think Deng would have stopped this. The last time he talked anti-imperialism was in the mid-1970s, in a talk to the UN General Assembly.

Since then, he picked China's enemies in accordance with weight and size. Vietnam can tell. Beijing's Vietnam policy, btw, is continuity in itself.

And I'd add that this is pretty much the way of state-to-state interaction under the current set of rules: from central America to Syria, from Ukraine to the South China Sea.

In that sense, the author doesn't need to worry about how to predict China's future policies. It will depend on actual power, and the question if there'll be all-out war depends on good - or bad - judgment among the stakeholders.

Ji Xiang said...

Yes, it was under Deng Xiaoping that China attacked Vietnam.

In any case, it seems to me that China's foreign policy remains as follows: complete intransigence on territorial disputes with its neighbours, and a subdued and low profile role in any other international crisis. After all China is clearly on the same side as Russia in Ukraine and Syria, but they are very careful not to state this openly, and to appear neutral and detached. I don't see this changing right now. They have not even expressed any strong positions on events closer to home in Thailand.

It is true though that China is getting more assertive and aggressive over its territorial disputes in the South China Sea.