Xi Jinping’s China seems to be coming of age the same way as Western imperialists
- The Chinese government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis, added to the economic decline, has brought out many dissenters within the country. And now, there is the fear of the bubonic plague.
- It is no wonder that President Xi is provoking rival nations across land borders and seas, trying to drum up some nationalism to distract people from his deficiencies.
- Imperialists from Britain and America have sought out war as a catalyst for economic growth— profiting from the cost of rebuilding what they destroyed in the first place.
- China may be entering a similar phase in economic development and adopting a similar strategy. It is for the world leaders to stop a full-blown conflict.
AdvertisementFrom the 19th century Europe, when the Rothschild family built a financial empire on the ruins of many wars, to World War-II, from the Japanese and Korean wars to the Cold War and beyond, the faith in war as a source of economic growth has survived many social, political, economic and technological revolutions.
The invisible loss of priceless human life, and the eternal scars they leave behind, have never been accounted for by those who are blinded by the glitter of oncoming wealth.
Xi Jinping may benefit from any outcome in a conflict between China and India, or any other country
It would, then, hardly be a surprise if another aspiring hegemon, Xi Jinping, pushes the People's Liberation Army to exchange a few bombs with another keen country. In return he would expect a few more years of reverence from his people, unbridled power, may be more indebted colonies.
His handling of the COVID-19 crisis, added to the economic decline in China, has brought out many dissenters within the country. It is no wonder that he is flexing his muscles and provoking rival nations like India and Taiwan across land borders and seas. And now, there is a fear of a bubonic plague.
At the least, drumming up nationalism within China will distract people from the government's deficiencies. At worst, a full blown conflict, with all the military might built up over the years, will allow Beijing to assert itself as a superpower on someone else's land, much in the same way as the Western powers did as their domestic economies in the industrial era matured.
"One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it"— a quote from the blockbuster movie Kung Fu Panda
Philosopher Slavoj Zizek— known for his critical analysis of both capitalism and communism— has often quipped how the Communist Party of China used two tools that an orthodox Marxist would hate — market economy and state authoritarianism — to successfully pull off an unmatched economic miracle in human history.
Almost everyone, whether they like China and its rulers or not, had naively hoped that China’s experiment with capitalism, however checked, would eventually lead to the emergence of democratic values.
Even the journalist and author Martin Jacques, who seems awed by the Chinese way of ‘getting things done’, did not rule out the possibility that the people of China will rebel against the autocrats at some point in history.
The Chinese people have largely been mute spectators as Xi accumulated power
In recent years, Xi and friends gave him an indefinite term as the country’s President, sucked the freedom out of the internet, kept the Uyghur Muslims in detention camps, and watched the people of Hong Kong tirelessly try to tear away from the mainland’s influence, a lot more than what geography would allow.
None of it has inspired the people of China enough to act as the conscience keepers for those running the government.
Mainland China has not seen a significant uprising since the Tiananmen protests of 1989. It didn’t because, in the same time, the GDP (gross domestic product) per capita went from $300 to nearly $10,000, millions out were lifted out of poverty, standards of living improved to a point were the idea of crazy rich Asians was reasonable, world-class infrastructure got built, the Olympics were hosted and, in general, there was a lot to feel good about.
The end of the miracle
AdvertisementThe ‘feel good’ started fizzling out in the last decade as the rising debt— both at the level of the state and the corporates— forced a fall in public investment. Since then, the debt has risen, and how! China’s total domestic debt was 317% of the country’s GDP at the end of March 2020.
And the recession post the global financial crisis made it less viable for China— famous as the factory to the world— to rely on exports as global demand fell sharply first and, then, crawled back. It had to push its own people had to start consuming more of the stuff they made.
However, the shift from manufacturing-led economy to one where services contributed more didn't pan out the way Xi planned. The COVID-19 pandemic may further delay the growth of services in China— the jury is out on the future of restaurants, travel, tourism, and hospitality to name a few sectors — even further.
However, like in India, the Chinese culture encourages savings. Being penny wise is a badge of honour that the people in China have been less keen to lose. The economic crisis triggered by coronavirus would make them as cautious as the people in the rest of the world, if not more.
Xi Jinping needs to keep China’s economic engine humming to create jobs. And he needs more people to work and generate wealth to support the rising population of the aged.
The average Chinese complied with the state tyranny as long it paid rich dividends. Now it doesn’t and the signs of dissent are visible. Recently, an influential Communist Party member, Ren Zhiqiang, went missing after calling President Xi Jinping a "clown" over his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
And Xi is running out of ideas. He can’t rely on exports because whatever potential was left in global trade, the COVID-19 has slammed the brakes on it. Domestic consumption in China will not rise if people do not make money and feel confident about the future. COVID-19 has left people only with anxiety.
China is using an old playbook that Britain and America have overused in the past
Industrial countries like Britain and America, as they started maturing, had to go far from their own borders to import economic growth at the expense of colonies, and sometimes via direct wars, or proxy wars, in the twentieth century.
Many argue that China has already colonised many countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and many nations in Africa with debt disguised as investments or development aid. An Institute of International Finance report published in May 2020 suggested that China is now the world’s largest lender to low-income countries— it went up from $875 billion in 2004 to over $5.5 trillion in 2019.
Slowing economy at home, and rising debt, doesn’t leave Beijing with a lot of room to do more favours. It has to rely on fear to retain its halo in the region and on the global stage. Much like the loan sharks on the street.
A house of cards
Meanwhile, China was quick to claim a fast recovery from coronavirus pandemic but the second wave hit Beijing soon.
A recent Caixin investigation showed how hollow the recovery in China. Official order mandated that factories must restart but the operators couldn’t tell authorities that there aren’t any inputs to restart production. But they knew that a factory's output is measured by the amount of electricity spent and, hence, the next few days the machines and air conditioners were left running without any real output.
AdvertisementThis might help fudging the factory output data or the GDP rate but the people on ground will hear the noise of an empty barrel better than foreign economists and ratings agencies. And people are infamous for losing patience fast when the future looks bleak.
The clash with India and the tantrums in South China sea may be distractions for now but Xi can escalate at will
A dictator feeling the heat from within, and hate from outside, may have to inject some nationalism to distract attention from himself. The easiest way to establish an enemy and it could be anyone India, Japan, America, Taiwan, or any country that chooses to retaliate.
There may be money to be made for the makers of guns and fighter jets, the lords of war (the middlemen in arms deals), oil giants and traders, money lenders, gold merchants, and infrastructure behemoths who get to rebuild countries bombed during the battle, to name a few. The potential for damage, seen and unseen, accounted and unaccounted, is a lot more than dollars can measure.
The conscience keepers within China were forced out long back
The Communist Party of China has been famous for its ability to control its leaders. However, Xi Jinping has cleaned out the party and the Politburo of those who could act as conscience keepers and made it a coterie of supporters who let him become ‘President for life’.
The wise elders, if there were any, would know that a country with an aging population has a lot more to lose by sending its depleting lot of young people to war. It is for the world leaders to rein in the President Xi from causing a louder explosion outside to drown out the implosion within.
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