December 14, 2019
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The Maker Of Two Revolutions

To deal with China Indian diplomacy needs a Chinese mix

The Maker Of Two Revolutions

DENG Xiaoping survived three purges and died two deaths. Every time he was purged, he came back with a vengeance. The first purge was wayback in the '30s. The last was in the '70s. He survived the opposition of Mao Zedong who referred to him as "that short man, there". But the short man proved more than equal to him when it came to survival. Physical shortness is not all.

Deaths are a different thing. He was not seen in public in the last three years of his life. What happened on February 19, 1997 was the last, physical death of Deng Xiaoping. He was dead a long time ago. This was a mere confirmation. But even in his death the basic modernity of the man was vividly apparent. No state guests for his funeral. No embalming of his body. Some years ago there was a Chinese TV serial called Yellow River Elegy which spoke of a riverine civilisation looking out towards the seas and oceans. That was the new vision—Deng Xiaoping represented that. Hence his ashes are going to be immersed in China's seas. The Chinese world has been traditionally bound by 'four seas' and unto the four seas the remains of Deng Xiaoping return.

Deng was a maker of two revolutions. A socialist revolution to begin with and a revolution which took China to state-controlled capitalism. To think of Deng only in terms of the latter is historically incorrect. After all he was the only one of the Chinese leaders who did not give up using the old-fashioned jacket (often called the Mao Jackets of the Chinese Communists). There were many things he did not give up; indeed strove to reiterate and consolidate. One of them was the unchallenged supremacy of the Communist Party. He seemed to argue that in backward societies capitalism can be built successfully only under an authoritarian political system. The Chinese Communist Party never uses these words but believes in them. Liberal, democratic political setups are not for China, not yet anyway.

Chinese leaders believe in that maxim. To believe that Deng and his comrades represent 'pragmatism' against some dogmatism of so and so would be an error. Deng Xiaoping was an old-fashioned Stalinist in the sense that from a Stalinist perspective 'socialism' is a term quite often employed for a group of economic indicators and Deng also believed that steel and electricity are what socialism is all about. Political liberalism can come only after a certain level of growth of productive forces has been reached. This is the reason why Deng and his comrades always treated the western concern with human rights with a degree of amusement if not with outright contempt.

Deng has created a 'new' China on the firm basis of Stalinism, political Stalinism that is. This is a Communist Party-ruled state. Its aim is to build state-controlled capitalism. It has opened its doors in a controlled fashion. It is, in other words, not liberalisation. Capitalisation of economy is not the same thing as the lib-eralisation of economy. Deng seemed to believe that early corporate capitalism has no place for liberty or liberalism. The much-celebrated 1978 plenum of the Communist Party which began the new era in China was not the era of liberalisation. It was the era of making a determined bid to enter the club of advanced economic powers. What Japan and South Korea can do, China can do better. Why? Because China has a Communist Party. The 1989 Tiananmen Square incidents demonstrated what Deng and his comrades had in mind. It is possible to argue that in their view the June 1989 incidents were neither a failure nor any sign of weakening of the political structure. Economy grows out of the barrel of a gun if necessary and certainly out of authoritarianism. China is a determined, disciplined and hard state. Deng Xiaoping has made it that way. Only a Stalinist could have done that. It will be many years before it can change. This authoritarianism can collapse but cannot change, not in the short run any way.

This is the Deng Xiaoping legacy. And this is the China India has to deal with. Few societies and states are so determined and disciplined. China's story is not only a story of economic achievement. More than that it is a story of political consolidation. China looks more consolidated today than it ever was in the last 200 years. In comparison, India is a weaker state. India can take some pride in its democracy. But such pride, however legitimate, is not particularly useful in power terms. This has already created a certain unequal relationship between India and China. China can and does take initiatives. Jiang Zemin's suggestion in Islamabad that all contentious issues (between India and Pakistan) should be kept in cold storage and possible areas of cooperation should be emphasised and explored instead is an indication of China's new South Asia policy. It does not want a conflict in South Asia (in fact nowhere along its borders). 

In a sense, Farooq Abdullah's bold and welcome suggestion of internationalising the ceasefire line in Kashmir as the frontier between India and Pakistan was possible because China has already taken a lead by suggesting the cold storage approach. China has become an active foreign policy agent. It wants to deal with those countries and hopefully increasing number of them which have no problem with China's world view and which approve of China's positive actor status. India, it would appear, has not seen the implications of this newly-acquired status of China. Nor its meaning. If it had it would have increased the pace of border negotiations. It is better to get that problem out of the way early enough, before China becomes an Asia-Pacific power. 

Deng has set China on that road to recovery; recovery of China's civilisational status and, no less important, legitimate power status. India must sort out small problems with China soon. So that it is possible to do diplomacy with China. The important thing is to ensure that these contradictions are non-antagonistic. This language sounds Maoist. Indeed, it is. Chinese nationalism and political structure have been Maoist-Stalinist. Deng Xiaoping has made certain of that. That's why Coca-Cola and national sovereignty have gone together in China. So have Mao and Deng. We have not quite achieved such a mix. As long as that is the case, Deng Xiaoping's China will remain a difficult adversary although probably not a hostile one.

(The author is the Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.)

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