Will Xi Jinping follow Jiang or Hu?
Since 1947,successive rulers in India have continued on the path of accomodation and compromise with solutions that are less than the best. Collectively, they have ensured that poverty, disease, illiteracy and misgovernment continue to haunt India, sixty-five years after the Union Jack was replaced by the tricolour in buildings across Delhi Contrast this with China. Although Mao Zedong presided over a peasant army starved of resources, he ensured that Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Tibet and Xinjiang got incorporated into the Peoples Republic of China. The only remaining slice of territory awaiting absorption was Taiwan, and it was deemed by Mao to be so small (in comparison to the incorporated lands) that it could wait. Hence, by 1949, a united China faced a divided India. Small wonder that the former has far outpaced the latter, becoming more than double the economic size of India by the 1990s, while it was less than half of (present-day) India’s economic size in 1949.
China’s leaders have wanted the best for their country and their people, and they have been stubborn in their determination to achieve this. In a way, they followed in the footsteps of the leader who ensured the military defeat of Adolf Hitler, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union J V Stalin. It was the latter’s ruthless confidence that ensured the holding of Moscow, Stalingrad and Leningrad, the names of the latter two getting changed by Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s to please the US and the EU, the two power blocs that Yeltsin was a servant of throughout his decade in power as President of the Russian Federation After Stalin, the attempt by Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria to take power was foiled by Nikita Khruschev, who took over as General Secretary and launched a policy of seeking the friendship of the US and West Europe. This was in contrast to Stalin and Lenin, both of whom believed that the interests of the USSR would always be opposed by the US and West Europe, whatever the public statements of friendship, and even of these, there were not many.
Since Khruschev, other Soviet leaders too tried very hard to reach an accomodation with the US principally, all of them failed. The man who tried hardest was Mikhail Gorbachev, who adopted the playbook given to him by US President Ronald Reagan, and thereby caused the destruction of the USSR. He was followed by Boris Yeltsin, who watched as US President W J Clinton sought to de-technologize Russia by stripping it of its laboratories and scientists. Under Yeltsin, Russia degenerated to an extent that threatened the stability of the state, thereby leading to a reaction within that part of the ruling establishment not beholden to Yeltsin-patronised mafias. That pushback led to the coming to power of Vladimir Putin, who understood that the US and the EU would never willingly accept a powerful Russia, and would work hard to weaken and undermine the state left behind after the 1992 collapse In China, the successor of Deng Xiaoping was in the mould of those who sought a partnership with the US and with the EU. Throughout his tenure, Jiang Zemin boosted western influence in China, going so far as to dilute Chinese culture by the wholesesale introduction into it of elements such as pop music and bepop dance. To be as American or as European as possible was glorious in the time of Jiang Zemin, and Chinese women felt underdressed if they did not have French perfume, Italian handbags and shoes and British suits. Their men craved after BMWs and Mercedes-Benz cars, as also Mont Blanc pens and Rolex watches. Soon, large swathes of the more affluent in China stopped wearing or consuming anything that was Chinese, preferring imports from the US, Europe and Australia. They even resorted to plastic surgery to look as European as they could, in common with many of the citizens of Japan, who would even dye their hair blond in order to create the same effect. However, in 2002,the Chinese Communist Party got a General Secretary who was proud to be Chinese, and had no inferiority complex about the same.Hu Jintao began to push China into the high-technology sphere, whereas in the past, the country had been content to do what India is doing to this day, which is rely on foreign countries for high-technology items.
With Putin in charge in Moscow and Hu looking after the tiller in Beijing, the dominance of the US-EU combine in global geopolitics began to ebb. Sometimes, though not often, even India would challenge the US and the EU, in the process making common cause with Russia and China. However, overall, Delhi has remained broadly committed to following the US and the EU lead on most matters, as witnessed most recently over Syria, where India voted in a way that was the opposite of the stand taken by Beijing and Moscow. This despite the experience in Libya, where a UN resolution was twisted out of shape to give cover to a brutal NATO military campaign that finally led to the roadside murder of Muammar Kaddafy by the armed bands that NATO funded and armed for months. That the US and the EU are strongly in favour of regime change in Syria is no secret, and but for the joint Moscow-Beijing veto, would have found the excuse they have been looking for to begin a military campaign in Syria, of course for “humanitarian” reasons. Had India abstained, it would have been excusable. Voting against Syria has shown once again that when it comes to a crunch, the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition in power in India sides with NATO With Vladimir Putin winning the just-concluded Presidential elections in Russia, despite the presence of the Germany-influenced Dimitry Medvedev in his team, Russia can be expected to follow a course other than obedience to the wishes of the US and the EU. After all, the way that President Clinton expanded NATO to the periphery of Russia and sought to wean away all of that giant country’s neighbours from alliance with Moscow showed policymakers in that capital the futility of hoping for a change of heart. Annoiting Medvedev as President was a himalayan error of Vladimir Putin, for the man is very much in the Gorbachev-Yeltsin mould of surrender. In the years ahead, the mistake Putin is making by giving the Prime Ministership to Medvedev will cost the Russian leader dearly. However, in his efforts at crafting a foreign policy independent of the pulls and pressures of Washington and Brussels, Vladimir Putin will be greatly assisted if incoming Chinese Head of State Xi Jinping is in the Hu Jintao mould rather than a follower of Jiang Zemin. If he is the latter, then he will once again seek to “westernize” China, moving away from the Sinic consciousness that has flowered during the first decade of the 21st century.
If on the other hand, he recognizes that the US and the EU will be as unhappy with a super-powerful China as they would be with a powerful Russia, he will join hands with Putin in putting in place a Moscow-Beijing geostrategic pole that in less than a decade will be far more powerful
than the US-EU pole The whole world is watching to see which way Xi Jinping will go. Will he return to the policies of Jiang Zemin or anchor himself in the more Chinese vision of Hu Jintao? Will he see Vladimir Putin as an ally or will he look past him to the EU, specifically to the leaders of France and Germany, the duo most threatened by a resurgent Russia? Should Xi Jinping continue on the path of Han nationalism and Asian resurgence that has been so prominent during under Hu Jintao, he can change the global geopolitical order permanently before his ten-year term expires.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.