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Xi Jinping 2.0, now in combat mode, will challenge India

The ruling Communist Party of China has taken yet another step to reboot the stature of its General Secretary Xi Jinping at par with Mao Zedong, the founding father of the Party State, whose tempestuous rule, marked by loss of millions of lives, brought China to the brink of collapse around the time of his death in 1976.

Yesterday a book on Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy was released in Beijing. The publication amplified a key dimension of Xi Jinping Thought for a “new era,” unveiled in October 2017 during the 19th party congress of the CPC.

During that twice-a-decade assemblage, Xi was elevated to Mao’s stature, as he became the only Chinese leader after PRC’s founding patriarch, whose Thought was enshrined in the Party’s constitution. Even the status of the architect of China’s reforms, Deng Xiaoping, compared to Xi, was symbolically dwarfed. The Party constitution has only recognized the contribution of Deng’s Theory—a rung below that of Mao and Xi’s Thought.

In 2016, Xi had also been designated as “core” leader—a title that was reserved only for select Chinese leaders with near absolute power including Mao and Deng.

Yesterday, the mandarins in Beijing decided that reaffirming Xi’s unchallenged authority on top of the China’s ruling tree, at par with Mao—the unrivaled strongman that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has produced so far—had become urgent, following the Covid-19 pandemic.

China has been facing a tsunami of accusations that it had either deliberately or inadvertently spread the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing the CPC to make a fundamental choice. The Party could either dig into the trenches and defend against the global onslaught. Conversely, it could go on the offensive, by demonstrating its raw military power as a deterrent, backed by a demonstration of complete political cohesion under Xi.

Faced with the dilemma, Beijing decided to mount a raging-bull approach. It began flexing its muscles in two geographic theaters simultaneously. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), headed by Xi as the commander-in-chief, intruded into Ladakh in a face-off with a resurgent India. In the West Pacific, the PLA Navy (PLAN) began to show the flag to enforce its maritime claims in resource rich South China Sea. While the Indian armed forces have stood up to the PLA in Ladakh, the Americans sent in two aircraft carrier task forces in the South China Sea after unambiguously rejecting all Chinese claims in these waters, which are contested by key Asean countries including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei.

In the back-and-forth play, the Chinese decided to institutionalize Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, with the formation of Xi Jinping Diplomatic Thought Research Center. This was to let the world know that current CPC leadership under XI was rock solid—perhaps even stronger after the onset of Covid-19.

During the inaugural of the Center, Chinese Foreign Minister and state councilor Wang Yi also made it astonishingly transparent that Xi’s China continued to harbor ambitions of a Middle Kingdom 2.0. Under the refurbished doctrine, Beijing, as in imperial China, aspired to become the principal “universal” hegemon, replenished by several tributary states which, in turn, will be offered protection by the “suzerain” residing in Beijing .

“China today is approaching the realization of the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as never before, and approaching the center of the world stage as never before,” Wang declared emphatically, echoing Middle Kingdom aspirations.

He also made it plain that in the era of Xi Jinping’s Diplomatic Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era, China had arrived at a stage where it would exercise leadership in shaping the global agenda. “We take the initiative to lead the reform of the global governance system, promote the development of globalization in a more inclusive and inclusive direction, and promote the evolution of the international order in a more just and reasonable direction,” Wang observed.

In the “two centenary goals” encapsulating China’s Middle Kingdom dreams, Xi had declared during the 19th Party Congress that China would become a “moderately prosperous society” in 2020 and an unrivaled fully developed country by 2050, marking the centenary of PRC’s formation.

“It now seems evident that the Chinese President is essentially seeking to return China to the traditional position it has exercised in Asia through much of its long history as the dominant regional power, to which other countries must defer or pay tribute,” observed Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times in an article in the LSE IDEAS special Report.

He added: “When the process of reform and opening began in China in 1979, the country found itself in a historically unfamiliar and deeply humiliating situation… Under these circumstances, China was forced to adopt a historically unfamiliar posture of humility. Throughout the first years of the policy of reform and opening, which began in the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping, China made every effort to be friendly and co-operative with its booming capitalist neighbors.”

Under the “Zhongguo” or Middle Kingdom imagination, which can be traced to the Zhou dynasty, Chinese imperial dynasties had combined trade and commerce with ruthless military force, enabling them to forge a tributary system that intruded into parts of Central Asia, the Korean Peninsula, and throughout Southeast Asia, with the intent of consolidating the central heartland.

In China’s calculus of achieving complete regional, in fact, global dominance, India, a rising economy, whose geo-cultural heft collides, and often overwhelms, Chinese soft power on either side of the Malacca straits, presents a formidable obstacle.

By the second half of the 21st century, our biggest opponent will definitely be India, acknowledges Xilu.com, a Chinese website, which is part of the media universe of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

With Xi’s reaffirmation as leader at par with Mao, India confronts a “reality check” presenting the unvarnished truth that the contest between two rising civilizational states, with comprehensive national power, may have only just begun..