Event ReportsPublished on Apr 16, 2014
Chinese foreign policy statements may seem sloganistic, ritualistic and without content but one has to realise it need not be articulated in the Euro-American way, says Prof. Geremie Barme of Australian National University College of Asia and Pacific.
'How China sees its role in the world'
Chinese foreign policy statements may seem sloganistic, ritualistic and without content but one has to realise it need not be articulated in the Euro-American way, according to Prof. Geremie Barme, Director, Australian Centre for China in the World, Australian National University College of Asia and Pacific, Canberra.

Delivering a lecture on ’How China Sees its Role in the World’ on April 16, 2014 at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, Prof. Barme said although Chinese foreign policy is alleged to be opaque and intolerant of dissent, in fact, it is internally contested and debated before adoption and is not merely based on a few anecdotes or secret initiatives.

The fact that real politik overturns even the best laid plan cannot be denied, he pointed out.

Prof. Barme said that to understand the present day China, one has to make a reading of its past contestations and evolution. China was a major role player in the Asian region even during the times of the Qing dynasty. After the collapse of dynastic politics in China, there was a long period (1912-1949) of Republican control by the Republic of China (ROC) beginning with Sun Yat-sen. Although ROC failed, it had introduced elements of the West including technology, freedom of press and other democratic instruments.

Thereafter there was a long standing struggle between Nationalist party and Communist party over issues like social policy, egalitarianism etc. Although Communist party was initially urban centered, it soon developed as a rural party led by revolutionary ideal. This process of contestation led to civil war between Kuomintang (KMT) and Communist Party of China (CPC). The Japanese invasion had profound social economic and other consequences and still has resonances in China. In fact, China was not adequately accommodated in the Pax Americana developed post-Second World War, added Professor Barme.

The Deng Xiaoping period starting from 1978 introduced economic liberalization based on the realization that class struggle and socialist economy had taken China far from economic development. Deng as a leader envisioned a modern wealthy and prosperous China.

Xi Jinping’s regime as it began on November 2012 may be seen as amalgamation of two previous eras. This is because he looked forward to reconciliation with the past, Prof. Barme pointed out.

First, Mao Tse Tung’s rule (1949-1978) saw a period of nationalization of industry, monopoly industries, new education and health systems, social transformation and introduction of many equitable systems. Yet, an ’Open Door system’ was nowhere near existence.

Second, the Deng Ziaoping era (post-1978) was marked by a wave of neo- liberal policies and market socialization. Demographic control through a new ’one child’ population policy was also launched. China was on the way to becoming a modern country, Prof. Barme said.

Xi attempted to combine these periods in a unique Chinese way, ideologically and systemically. He intended to combine the elements of both state socialism and economic liberalization while minimizing the maladies of both.

Professor Barme also made a historical analysis of Xi’s China Dream. Xi’s China Dream is one of revival of Chinese nation. American dream may be treated as exemplary but is certainly not emulated. China Dream is an example of how China talks about the past, envisions the present and looks into the future. Xi had placed before himself two centennial goals in terms of China Dream. By the year 2020-2021 (CPC’s centenary year), Xi envisions a moderately prosperous society through attaining fixed levels of education, health, social security benefits etc. These may be seen as concrete material goals. The second goal is to make China gradually a strong, harmonious and democratic society by 2049 (the PRC’s centenary year). Here Professor Barme also drew attention to the concept of ’Peripheral Diplomacy’ introduced by Xi. He said China is working as a part of ’shared destiny’. This concept was introduced at the forum of Peripheral democracy and it means that China was at the centre of large periphery inhabited by a number of other countries.

Prof. Barme also expanded on the Chinese strategic thinking. He said although not having a designated official on foreign policy creates some ambiguity about China’s external relations management, in practice the government has a well worked out strategy. He said one has to juxtapose Chinese current expansionism over Diaoyu Island on to their past alienation in San Francisco Peace Conference of 1951. Chinese strategic thinking should be seen as multi-layered. To understand this a complete and meticulous reading and understanding of Chinese history and politics is required. A win-win strategy, mutuality talk may represent a cover for achieving an over-arching presence of China at the heart of Asia.

President Xi is close to Chairman Mao in terms of creating what Prof. Barme calls a ’shadow government’. Xi probably intends to create a bureaucracy around him staffed by officials who will fall in line. He recalled that Mao through Cultural Revolution wanted to dilute bureaucratic control by an almost parallel government back then. Further, Xi has cut down a range of political possibilities. He wants to ensure Communist rule. Professor Barme feels that Communist Party of China is the only viable force that can keep China together and ensure long term stable society despite nepotism and absolutism. He concluded that the clampdown by Xi on difference of opinion serves perfectly well in short term but it may backlash in the long run.

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