Xi’s Spirited New-Year Address to a “Dynamic” and “Resilient” China

Upasana Ghosh, Research Intern, ICS

While the world has its gaze fixed on China, it stepped into a pivotal political year that is awaited by several economic challenges exacerbated due to the pandemic. On the last day of 2021, President Xi Jinping extended his best wishes to his fellow citizens and delivered the annual New Year address to the nation. During the televised speech, the Chinese President had sent a clear message to the international community that China is “ready” for the long and arduous journey ahead. The crux of the speech revolved around – glorification of the Communist Party of China’s (CCP) achievements in 2021, the elevation of the regime’s image as the best governing institution and Xi’s political objectives for the year, 2022. Another prime focus of Xi’s address was: urging citizens to maintain their “strategic focus” and mindfulness against “potential risks”, that could disrupt CCP’s mission to lead the way in China’s long march towards the great rejuvenation. Consequently, stressing the importance of resilience, courage and determination for the people of China as they look forward to the future.  

Nevertheless, the profound message behind the address reflects articulated camouflaging of the economic and political fallouts at home and abroad. Looking forward to 2022, Xi’s call for more rigorous efforts to foster an economically robust, politically transparent and socially peaceful environment came at the backdrop of the Party’s forthcoming 20th Congress scheduled in autumn this year. The preceding year 2021, was a tough one for China, as the world’s second-largest economy came under severe international pressure due to a range of factors, including obfuscating information on Covid-19 data, aggressive posturing on the South China Sea, and the human-right abuses against Uighurs in Xingjian province.

Further, the downturn in China’s real estate market and the intensifying slowdown in the export-driven national economy due to drastic drop in foreign demands of Chinese produce added to the financial distress at home. Investors from the foreign business community are becoming increasingly sceptical about Beijing’s grip over increasing risks in credit markets. Politically it got worse for Xi, as he faced widespread resentment from his own Party members due to the expelling of many party elites and that of unceasing popular discontent resulting from media censorships, regulations and surveillance on citizens in the name of adjustment of excessive incomes, redistribution of wealth and reduction of income inequality. In addition, a crackdown over Hong Kong and an expansionist approach towards Taiwan led to further dispersal of Beijing’s negative image across the globe. All these combined, contributed to Xi’s pledge in this year’s annual address to meet domestic and global expectations from a responsible world power. The implied undertone was reflected in a burnished manner in his message that  “the world is turning its eyes to China,” and it is ready.

President Xi began his speech with his retrospective appreciation of “continual progress” and contributions made by Chinese citizens and the Party in achieving their first centenary goal of building China into a “moderately prosperous” society during the historically axial year 2021. While looking ahead into the future, he highlighted that as China “confidently” strides toward “a new journey” of achieving its second centenary goal of building a great modern socialist country in all respects, 2022 will be another crucial year for the country. By drawing attention towards the centenary celebration of the founding of the CPC, Xi recalled the Party’s extraordinary achievements and contributions throughout the past century in diminishing Chinese people’s “unyielding struggle” against all challenges, be it the elimination of poverty or towards the accomplishment of their extraordinary mission of Chinese rejuvenation. In the televised address, Xi reminded his people to “always remain true to their original aspiration”, thereby emphasizing loyalty as integral to Party’s founding mission and interests. While conveying about the adoption of the Party’s third resolution on historical issues at the sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Xi praised CPC’s 100-year achievements and experience as a source of motivation and inspiration. In this context, Xi also referred to the importance of Chairman Mao’s thoughts in attaining the historical initiative. Therefore, it becomes evident that the Chinese President’s New Year address is nothing but a commemoration before his people about CCP’s centrality in Chinese polity. Also, the President in his address attempted to bolster the regime’s image as the quintessential modus-operandi for China’s socio-economic advancement. The speech can further be interpreted as Xi’s attempt to elevate his image and stature in the Party’s history in order to fulfil his intention to ensure his position as party chief for a third term. Hence, in Consequence, establishing himself as the uncontested ‘core’ leader of the People’s Republic of China. It is to be noted that Xi has always relied on Party’s performance legitimacy as his preferred tool to strengthen and maintain his monopoly over national power, dismantle domestic dissent of any kind and to consolidate mass support.

While speaking on people’s struggles from living in poverty, Xi’s address entailed a personal touch. He accentuated experiences from his encounter with poverty and mindfulness from his nationwide field trips about Chinese people’s sustained efforts in scoring ‘complete victory’ in fighting poverty. This relatable and engaging acknowledgement of the common man’s problems conveyed a calculated measure to garner widespread support as an empathetic mass leader. Although Xi called for more strenuous efforts on behalf of the Chinese people to ensure stable and highest-quality of economic development and a truly prosperous social environment, this year’s speech appears to have tactfully evaded from setting any specific economic agenda and growth targets. Instead, in desperate measures to win over people’s confidence before the commencement of CCP’s National Congress in autumn 2022, Xi seemed to hint at looming economic pressure in the country, thereby vowing about his and the Party’s commitment to tackle any such challenges. He devoted a substantial section to his profound concern for the environment, with multiple geographic references, evincing his detailed attention to specific situations. Thus, taking a chance to demonstrate the world about China’s sincerity as a responsible leader, towards advancing sustainable development goals and its resolution and effort to promote collaborative development and prosperity for all in the future. By stressing upon the advancements in China’s space program, Xi tried to draw worldwide attention towards its broadened scientific outreach for humanity. In a very veiled fashion, by capitalizing on the Party’s much-hyped campaign on ‘collective effort on common development and prosperity for mankind’, Xi alluded to his vision for China and next-generation political leaders, that the commitment to China’s aerospace would only intensify in the coming period.

The Chinese President also didn’t miss the chance to be in the spotlight while expressing his plaudits for Chinese contribution in vaccine diplomacy and material assistance across the globe at the pandemic outbreak, contrary to the developed democracy’s struggle to meet their respective national demands. Aggrandizement of the Communist regime’s efficiency is handling the Pandemic crisis, reflected Xi’s motive to instil a sense of admiration for the Chinese way of global leadership among the developing countries. Also, the New Year address flagged Xi’s apprehension over a forthcoming complicated geopolitical environment in the commencing year, particularly concerning Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and stability in the former British colony of Hong Kong and the former Portuguese-run enclave of Macau. Declaration on establishment and implementation of “One Country, Two Systems in the long run” through concerted efforts came amidst a severely deteriorating US-China relation alongside growing international backlashes and pressure from the US and European Union. To decode the subtle message, underlining a delicate tone of inspiring his people to defend, fight for and promote global peace and prosperity, upholds a firm and uncompromising diplomatic posture on behalf of the country’s President in his attempt to manage and resolve issues, perceived by Beijing as encroaching on its core national interests. The regime’s intent to enforce its political will embodying CCP’s contemporary expression of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ within its neighbourhood is clear from its expansionism in the region.

To sum up, Xi, in a very colloquial and relatable fashion, intended to demonstrate to China and the World that the Chinese model of socialism is not just delivering desired results but is also flourishing. On the surface, the enthusiastic address directed towards 1.4 billion national audiences resonated a personal one-to-one conversational appeal towards individual efforts for the overall upliftment of China’s global stature. However, underlying this optimism, is an instructive parameter of the communitarian regime for law-abiding Chinese citizens. The apparent portrayal of self as an archetype of a compassionate, charismatic mass-leader – through the application of simple yet catching phrases like “amicable, respectable” and “dream chasers” to address Chinese people, conveyed about the Chinese President’s attempt to uphold his image and political legitimacy at home and abroad. His description of 2022 as a pivotal year for the country by looking backward at Chinese achievements in the preceding year and looking forward as the Chinese together embarks on a new journey to transform their country into a significant global power sets the prime tone for Xi’s vision for Chinese polity in the coming time. Whereas, if Xi continues to stay in office beyond the anticipated decade, which is a high possibility, the international community, particularly its neighbouring contemporaries, must be prepared to face an even more outward-looking, proactive, and assertive China in the global platform. Beijing’s willingness to flex its muscle regarding what it considers defence and procurement of its core national interest in the contested Indo-Pacific and other territorial disputes is more likely than recognized. Xi’s telling phrase that everyone has seen and experienced a resilient and dynamic China further exemplifies contemporary China’s strategic posture in international affairs. Moreover, the two adjectives, “resilient” and “dynamic”, illustrates China’s preparedness for facing future challenges and the country’s zeal to bounce back against them. Henceforth, the upbeat address driven by political and economic exigencies at home and abroad is a clear indication of a further shift towards aggressive diversionary foreign policy approach to reinforce national sentiments and demonstrate competence against alternative administrations, only to retain political power of the party leaderships and thus, continuance of the Party’s legitimacy and authority across the motherland.

The Blog was written under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Priyanka Pandit, Ashoka-HYI Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies Shiv Nadar University, India. The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Why is the Ukraine War becoming a debating battleground in China?

Hemant Adlakha, Vice Chairperson, ICS and Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Very few Beijingers are aware that most Western embassies in the capital’s “Embassy Alley” have put up Ukrainian solidarity signs near their entrances. No, not because the area is “no entry zone” for everyday strollers, but because as they say, the area is “far from the madding crowd.” Yet the Ukraine war has attracted the country’s netizens and citizens’ so much attention that a Beijing-based foreign commentator says “a rupture has taken place.” Furthermore, a leading Chinese newspaper has even equated the unprecedented “rupture” with as if China is participating in the war.


To believe what most foreign affairs experts in China tell us, Chinese people usually do not pay attention to international news, or for that matter to world events unless of course China is directly involved. However, the degree and the passion with which a large number of Chinese have come out to express their views and opinion, even take sides, has surprised one and all. Part of the reason why the Russia-Ukraine war has opened up “a new battlefield” of public opinion in China is Beijing’s pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia friendly image in the Chinese media in recent years. Thanks largely to wide media coverage as recently as January this year when Xi-Zelensky pictures were flashed in various media in China as the two presidents exchanged congratulatory messages celebrating thirty years of diplomatic ties between Beijing and Kyiv.


A more significant factor why most Chinese do not see Ukraine as a country far away is, Ukraine is the hub of the Belt and Road Initiative, or “One Belt, One Road” strategy – interestingly, in the Chinese media the BRI is generally referred to as Yidai yilu, or OBOR. Many Chinese see OBOR, President Xi’s favourite and China’s important infrastructure and overseas investment project, as a major casualty of the Ukrainian war. According to Professor Wang Yiliang of Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, “Europe is a crucial market for China’s ‘Belt and Road’ land projects. China’s “Belt and Road” land projects may either face “blockade” or “OBOR” connectivity in the region may become increasingly dependent on Russian “protection. Therefore, the war between Russia and Ukraine has made Beijing’s decisions to be cautious.”

A far more important or perhaps equally controversial reason which is creating near vertical split between China’s pro-Ukraine/pro-Russia public opinion is the absence of a clear “party line” on the situation from above. As Tom Clifford, a seasoned foreign affairs analyst who has been living and writing from Beijing for long, has observed recently: “China’s wait-and-see-inaction seems sclerotic. Chinese officials have sent out confusing and frankly incoherent statements. They stress, parrot like, the importance of territorial integrity but blame the US for the crisis.” As a result of the Chinese leaderships’ sclerosis, the country’s all powerful censorship agencies too seemed clueless and floundered on the issue.

At another level, a huge controversy was created when a blogger on China’s largest social media platform, Weibo – China’s equivalent to Twitter etc., labelled those pro-Ukraine as “rightists” with a similar view as the position taken by the Western media and most liberal democracies; while calling all those who support Russia in the ongoing war as “leftists” with no independent thinking of their own. Reacting angrily to the blogger’s “bogus” claim, Zhang Zhikun, a veteran and widely influential current affairs analyst wrote thus: “The debate caused by the ongoing war in Ukraine refuses to stop. Unlike at the beginning of the war, the debate is now no more about the war itself but has been extended into investigating the ideological roots of those taking part in it. This also explains why the debate is acquiring a high degree of polarization.”

A no less pertinent dimension of the growing sharp divide in China over the Russian invasion in Ukraine is the shocking degree of cynical hype as manifested among China’s hardened “left” (aka orthodox leftists). In a signed commentary, a Mao-faction ultra-left scholar, Wen Anjun, has named and accused several leading intellectuals from China’s topmost universities of parroting “western speak.” Anjun blames them for condemning Russia but not speaking a word of criticism against the US and Nato. To Wen Anjun and others of his ilk, what is most worrying about the people mentioned above is their worldview, their view of the US, and above all their perception of the CPC-led China. “Once China’s re-unification war [with Taiwan] is launched in the future, all these people may endanger China by siding with the US and Taiwan independence,” wrote Wen Anjun.

It is indeed true that the Ukraine war has shocked the world, aroused strong reactions in all corners of the world, and led to fierce debates. But it is also true that the degree of polarization in public opinion in China has not been witnessed in most countries. In addition to what is highlighted above, other bizarre public reactions to the ongoing war include a section of Chinese netizens unashamedly displaying misogynist attitudes by writing blogs with a flurry of tone-deaf jokes. What outraged many within China and abroad was surfacing of ham-handed humour such as calls for “willing to shelter 18- to 24-year-old Ukrainian beauties.” On the other hand, some Chinese observers sounded alarm bells, warning that China’s “filthy wealthy” rich – such as “comprador capitalists” Jack Ma, Pony Ma and others – along with all those who are backing Ukraine are all anti-China, anti-Chinese motherland, and anti-CPC.

Finally, no one in China denies, just like no one in the world is in doubt, as far as China is concerned the Russia-Ukraine war is not a good war. It is understandable the Chinese leadership must have been regretting now what it said during Xi-Putin summit on February 4 in Beijing: “China’s Russia friendship has no limits.” But given the country’s political system and the political culture, not at all surprising that no one in the leadership will openly admit “of being caught wrong-footed by a world that is rapidly changing.”

The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the Institute of Chinese Studies.

The China-India Cold War in Maldives

Rangoli Mitra, Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies

Source: The Diplomat

The significance of Maldives, one of the most geographically dispersed countries in the world, is steadily increasing. The island nation, which comprises 26 atolls spread over 90,000 square kilometers, is located in a central position in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka, and straddles important sea lines of communication. Until recently, Maldives was mostly known for its pristine beaches and luxury resorts, and regarded as a vacation destination for the rich and famous. However, in recent years, the strategic salience of the small island nation has not been lost on anyone – particularly India and China.

While India has always regarded Maldives as an important player in the Indian Ocean and accorded it the necessary priority, Beijing has in recent years stepped up engagement with Maldives as well, signaling its intent and priorities in the Indian Ocean as a part of its 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative, the maritime half of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A Look at the Historical India-Maldives Relationship

Maldives, which is barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy island in India’s Lakshadweep archipelago and 300 nautical miles away from India’s west coast, has traditionally been India’s friend. However, the nature of this relationship remains dynamic and complex due to factors such as competing domestic rivalries in Maldivian politics and the importance of foreign policy for the general public because of the nation’s geostrategic location.

India was not only one of the first countries to recognize Maldives after its independence in 1965 but also the first country to open a resident mission in Malé. For its part, Maldives opened a full-fledged High Commission in New Delhi in November 2004, at that time one of only four diplomatic missions worldwide. While the relationship began deepening with increasing economic and diplomatic engagements, the crucial turning point came in 1988, when India responded to a coup attempt against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom by launching Operation Cactus. Although it has been widely noted that Gayoom contacted other countries for help at first, it was finally India who came to his government’s rescue. While Gayoom maintained friendly relations with India, he also veered toward China, a rising power in the Indian Ocean.

Democratic elections held in 2008 brought Mohamed Nasheed to power in Maldives. Nasheed had a clear pro-India stance. In 2009, Maldives and India signed a defense cooperation agreement, according to which India would install 26 radars on all the atolls for seamless coverage and link them with the Indian coastal command, and the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) would carry out joint surveillance and patrolling activities. New Delhi also agreed to provide Maldives with a Dhruv helicopter and help establish a 25-bed military hospital in the island chain, among other agreed-upon cooperative mechanisms. This brought Maldives into the Indian security grid. Events such as the 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Maldives in 2014, which led to swift and positive responses from India, further helped to cement New Delhi’s position as the net security provider and first responder in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Relations between India and Maldives soured during Mohammed Waheed Hassan and Abdulla Yameen’s time in power, as both leaders favored Beijing. But even then, the decline should not be overstated. Although Yameen had an anti-India stance while campaigning for elections, once in power, he softened his rhetoric on India and paid a visit to the country. During his visit, the Indo-Maldivian Action Plan for defense was signed and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi minced no words when he asserted that Maldives is among India’s closest partners.

Initiatives such as the Greater Malé Connectivity project, the training of Maldivian civil servants in India, cargo vessel services, the capacity building and training of the MNDF, and infrastructure projects such as the Gulhifalhu Port Project and the Hulhumalé cricket stadium, are among the plethora of projects being undertaken by India in Maldives.

The engagement between the two countries is based on India’s “Neighborhood First” and Maldives’ “India First” policy. Particularly, in the sphere of defense, the two nations have an extremely close relationship based on the understanding of the need to protect the IOR from both conventional and non-conventional threats. The two nations routinely hold joint exercises such as “Ekuverin” and “Dosti” (the latter of which was later joined by Sri Lanka).

In 2020, India supplied a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to the MNDF, which is expected to boost efforts to keep a closer eye on the movement of Chinese vessels in regional waters. One of the main functions of this aircraft is to undertake medical evacuations from isolated communities on some 200 inhabited islands. It will also assist in search and rescue and counterterrorism operations, as well as surveilling and responding to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Interestingly, the need for the Dornier aircraft was initially raised by the Yameen government.

For India, the Indian Ocean is of utmost importance. Since 2014, after the Modi government came to power, India has taken a proactive approach in cementing its role as the leader in the Indian Ocean by according priority to maritime diplomacy and initiatives. This comes against the backdrop of rising Chinese assertiveness in the IOR and the growing interest of various powers in the Indian Ocean generally, and Maldives in particular.

Chinese Influence in Maldives

China established bilateral relations with the Maldives in 1972. Since then, the Chinese have gradually increased investments in Maldives and maintained a cordial relationship with the different Maldivian governments. From 1985, Chinese companies began entering the project-contracting business in the Maldives. By the end of 2001, the accumulated value of their contracted projects was $46.37 million, with turnover touching $40 million.

The turning point in Sino-Maldivian relationship came in 2013 after Abdulla Yameen came to power. Coincidentally, this was also the year in which Xi Jinping became the Chinese president and launched the ambitious BRI a few months later. The next year, Xi visited Maldives and exhorted the country to join the Maritime Silk Road. Maldives thus became the second South Asian nation, after Sri Lanka, to formally endorse the BRI. Subsequently, the two nations inked a free trade agreement.

Chinese authorities have constantly encouraged Chinese citizens and businesses alike to visit and invest in the Maldives. The Chinese have undertaken a range of projects such as the construction of roads and housing units, the expansion of the main international airport, the development of a power station, and the construction of a bridge to connect Malé with Hulhule, among other investments in tourism and agriculture. China is also the leading source of tourists to Maldives.

Under the Yameen government, Maldives has accumulated a debt of nearly $3.1 billion, according to former President Nasheed. However, other Maldivian officials have placed it at a lower figure, somewhere between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion, which is nonetheless still a large amount for a country with a GDP of $4 billion.

In 2018, there were reports that the Chinese were planning to build a Joint Ocean Observation Station in Makunudhoo in northwestern Maldives. However, this plan was later shelved. At various points in time, there have been speculations about a possible Chinese naval base in Maldives. However, much to India’s relief, these have remained speculative. Until now, the Chinese navy has visited the Maldives only twice.

Since Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power in 2018 after defeating Yameen in that year’s presidential election, India has been prioritized over China, with the present administration going back on certain commitments to the Chinese.

India or China?

The tussle between India and China over Maldives is starkly clear. While India has consistently favored Maldives, the latter’s behavior has changed depending on which regime is in power. However, one thing is clear: Maldives cannot ignore India due its geographical proximity and multidimensional relationship, which is now set in stone.

The geostrategic location of Maldives in the Indian Ocean and its proximity to Diego Garcia has meant that the United States, one of the strongest powers in the Indian Ocean, has also come to recognize the strategic value of Maldives. In 2020, the U.S. and Maldives signed a defense agreement, the first that Malé has signed with any country besides India. Due to the closeness between India and the U.S., India welcomed this agreement. Maldives also shares a close relationship with Japan and has welcomed developments related to the Quad.

But just as India-Maldives relations were not all bad under Yameen, not all is well today. In recent months, the “India Out” campaign led by former President Yameen has gained steam. The debate is ostensibly over an Indian-funded dockyard for the Maldivian coast guard, but the larger concern is regarding the sovereignty of the island nation. It is essential to note that the Indo-Maldivian relationship is based on mutual respect and the primary function of the Indian personnel stationed in Maldives is to maintain and operate the aircraft.

Thus, the politics of Maldives decides its foreign policy, which ultimately reflects the direction toward which the nation will tilt. The presidential elections next year will again decide who will be in favor, but in the long run India and Maldives share a special bond, one that cannot be bought by China. Regardless of whatever happens, India should continue to take a proactive stance toward Maldives and help the nation deal with threats such as climate change and terrorism. This article was previously published in The Diplomat under the same title.

Eyeing on Contemporary China through Lu Xun’s Writings

Priyanka Keshry, Research Scholar, Jawaharlala Nehru University

Image: Lu Xun (1881-1936) Source: chinadaily.com

Lu Xun (1881–1936), one of China’s most influential twentieth-century writers, has long been a source of contention. Despite the fact that Lu Xun died over 90 years ago, there is still a dispute concerning the significance of his works in modern China. Some believe Lu Xun remains important today, while others believe he is too political to talk now. One of the key reasons for examining his work now is because he stated his opinions on nearly every facet of Chinese culture, and he differed on a range of cultural, social, and political topics that appear to be more significant than ever. As a consequence of multiple interpretations of his works and political use of them, his works and character have been twisted and transformed several times. Currently, each Chinese individual has their own vision of Lu Xun, which differs from one another. Here, I’ll try to expand on some of the “dissenting voices” in his writings, relate them to current China, and, to some extent, try to figure out what he would say if he were still living today.

Introduction

Lun Xun (1881-1936) was the nom de plume of one of the most celebrated modern Chinese author, poet, essayist and critic – 周树人 Zhōushùrén or Zhou Shuren. His use of the modern colloquial language for writing serious literature has often led many scholars to regard him as the father of modern Chinese literature. He was born in the year 1881, in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, which was a hotbed of anti-Qing resistance.

 Lu Xun was beginning his writing career at a very historic time in the history of the region. It was the time of the May 4th Movement. The youth and the intellectuals in the society led a socio-political movement aimed to modernise China through adapting to ideas, literature, theoretical frameworks, medicine and other such practises imported from the West.

Some Chinese intellectuals believed that traditional culture and values of China had made China stagnant and weak. Thereby, Lu Xun started writing in colloquial language to reach out to maximum people for advocating modernization and criticising Chinese tradition. The issues, menaces, inadequacies and cruelty of the Chinese society of his times were openly exposed through the narratives of his fictional works. 

 “Diary of a Madman” (1918), Lu Xun’s earliest and most successful short fiction, became a watershed of the modern Chinese literature and affected modern Chinese culture. Lu Xun’s works are still extensively read, debated, and praised both at home and abroad. He is more than a writer; he is an institution (M. Sean, 2010). Lu Xun was more than a single author; he was a tide, a direction, and a movement in his time. Lu Xun did not merely write about   China during his time; he also presented a clearer image of China’s national identity in the future. His writings are recognized as “timeless” literary works, meaning that they have remained relevant since their publication and will continue to do so in the future. During his lifetime, he influenced practically every Chinese writer, generating numerous conflicts, interests, and opinions.

Lu Xun was worried not just about the fate of the Chinese people, but also about the future of universal social values for humanity. Lu Xun’s critical position on government and society compels us to go deeper into his works and consider them in light of current events. Lu Xun acknowledged the political and cultural importance of literature and used his writings to try to awaken the Chinese people.

Numerous analyses of Lu Xu’s literature have been conducted both in China and overseas. The majority of the research concentrated on his works on socio-political topics, with little attention paid to Lu Xun’s dissenting voice.  Yan Jiayan, (2011) in his A Pioneer in Raising Issues against the Mainstream—Lu Xun’s: Difference between Literature and Politics pointed out that he had written the harshest criticism in the whole of Chinese literary and political history and remained extremely critical of the government of the day and of his literary opponents.

Lu Xun attempted to remind lawmakers of their responsibilities to monitor in order to support China’s continued development and progress. “Politicians despise everyone who disagrees with their viewpoints, anyone who tries to think or speak out,” he stated. However, the writer’s language is also the language of society. He’s just sensitive, quick to feel and communicate his feelings (too quickly, at times, so even society opposes and excludes him).  Politicians believe the writer is a source of societal unrest and want to assassinate him so that society may return to normalcy. They have no idea that even if the writer is assassinated, society would still undergo upheaval. The number of Russian authors slaughtered or banished is not insignificant, but haven’t the flames of revolution erupted everywhere? (From 1927’s The Divergence of Art and Politics)

More than half of China was already part of the Guomindang Party’s realm when Lu Xun made these statements. Wouldn’t Lu Xun have been in opposition to a different administration, like the Communist Party? Even though the CPC professed to be socialist and to work equally for people from all walks of life, he would have contradicted them. The essence of his above-mentioned views on the gap between literature and politics would have been perverted by the current authoritarian government.  Politicians still have low regard for people who disagree with them, for anyone who dares to think or speak out. The notion of Lu Xun that “the language of the writer is the language of society” would only have been taken seriously if the writer’s language was in line with the party, not with society. The party believes the writer is a catalyst for societal unrest. 

According to human-rights activists and analysts, the Chinese Communist Party fears that dissidents in the country’s intelligentsia will not only act as a lightning rod for a variety of social concerns by challenging the legitimacy of the state’s institutions, but will also provide an organization for people to rally around.

Pankaj correctly describes the Lu Xun scholarship as a “Lu Xunian paradigm” of writing that continues to influence and inspire modern authors in China. He went on to remark that Lu Xun didn’t write only for the pleasure of writing; he wrote to dismantle the conventional edifice’s foundations. The current regime is afraid that Chinese writers will use the Lu Xunnian model or “Lu Xun’s spirit” to express their discontent with the current regime’s ills, such as the Communist Party’s atrocities against its own citizens, suppression of the voice, and strict censorship of news media, writers, and academics.

General Discussion

Lu Xun had no intention of becoming a writer at first; his dissatisfaction with conventional Chinese society pushed him to do so. In his early writings, we can discern the dissenting voice as well. Lu Xun’s essay “Refutation of Malevolent Voices” (Po e’sheng lun, 1908) was a prod to individuals unsatisfied with imperial culture to build something new. It was written in Tokyo in the traditional Chinese language and first published in December of 1908. He claims that the nation’s hope rests on the sincerity and devotion of its intellectuals, and he encourages them to express their sincere thoughts in order to break through the barriers of darkness and silence.

Iron House,’ as Lu Xun put it, was Chinese society at the time. When an old friend of Lu Xun, Qian Xuantong, requested him to write for New Youth in 1917, Lu Xun informed Qian: “Imagine an iron home with no windows or doors, complete indestructibility, and a room full of sound sleepers on the verge of dying from suffocation. Allow them to die peacefully in their sleep, and they will have no remorse. Is it acceptable to scream, rousing the light sleepers among them and inflicting inexplicable anguish on them before they die?” “The iron house may one day be demolished,” Qian responded.

Because Chinese citizens still can’t or have very limited access to knowledge about what’s going on in the world, and can’t speak their hearts out owing to rigorous censorship, it appears that China has once again become the “iron house,” a room “without windows or doors.” Surveillance and severe regulation of mass media, art, and literature are hallmarks of the modern iron house, from which no one can escape. The ‘iron house’ is waiting for someone to demolish it, and China is waiting for writers like Lu Xun to emerge from their contemporary slavery-induced stupor.

Lu Xun’s debut short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918 and quickly became a hit. Lu Xun has expressed his wrath and challenged thousands of years of feudal patriarchal system and ethical instruction via the insane. As a result, the lunatic represents an already awakened intellectual with an entirely new perspective on society. Lu Xun had shown a blatant anti-feudal democracy, demonstrating the depth of its anti-feudalism.

According to Agnes Smedley’s memoirs (1934), she was worried about him (Lu Xun) after he sent the essay “The Present Situation of Art in Darkest China” to the international publication New Masses. When Smedley advised him to be more careful about his personal safety, but Lu Xun simply replied, “Don’t worry! Someone needs to speak up, someone has to tell it like it is!” His stance of “speaking up” and “telling it like it is” would have gotten him in difficulty, and his destiny would have been worse than Liu Xioabo, a contemporary Chinese literary critic, scholar, and human rights activist who advocated for democratic changes and the end of one-party rule in China.

The event of 1926, in which more than 40 individuals were shot dead by Beijing police, is one of the most important instances that illustrates Lu Xun’s rebellious voice. On March 18, 1926, a student was shot as she and her colleagues attempted to peacefully present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui. “In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen,” penned by Lu Xun, is a short story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted to peacefully present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui. He was severely shocked by this act of state-sanctioned brutality, as well as the death of someone he knew. “In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen” is an emotive essay that isn’t overly controversial, as it should be. It was generally recognized, however, as his protest against government-directed brutality. He attacked the opponent while maintaining a conflicted attitude regarding his own acts and words.

When the PRC government sent in troops and opened fire on student protests again in 1989, Lu Xun’s “In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen” was resurrected. Even before the violence established the striking comparisons for everyone to see, students from Beijing Normal University, a successor to Liu Hezhen’s institution, felt a unique connection to the events of March 18, 1926. (Eva Shan Cho, 1999). Liu Hezhen has become a symbol of student patriotism. Since 1989, Chinese administrations have repeatedly failed to speak about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. If we read his words without considering the historical context, we could think he’s talking about contemporary Chinese society. One can only speculate on how Lu Xun might have reacted to the Tian’anmen Square event in 1926, given the 47 dead and 200 wounded.

In his essay titled How “The True Story of A Q” was Written, Lu Xun writes: “I only wish that as people say, I had written about a period in the past, but I fear what I saw was not the past but the future – even as much as  from twenty to thirty years from now.” (Ilgo, Tina. 2010). It is apparent that Lu Xun was interested in far deeper and far-reaching concerns about Chinese national character and human nature in general, rather than just depicting the contemporary situation in China.

Lu Xun described the Chinese society at the time as Wushengde Zhongguo, or “voiceless China,” and advised Chinese youth to first transform China into a China with a voice by speaking boldly, moving forward courageously, forgetting all considerations of personal advantage, pushing aside the ancients, and expressing their true feelings. He wanted to persuade Chinese citizens, particularly the youth, to speak up and convey their actual feelings about the faults of Chinese society, because youth and those who had studied overseas had distinct thoughts and perspectives on the society. He does not want the future generation to face the same destiny as China, which has been plagued by Confucianism’s problems. “We have men but no voices, and how lonely that is!” he says in the same piece. Are folks capable of remaining silent? No, not unless they’re dead, or, to put it another way, unless they’re dumb.” He considered himself as the “voice of China” and a “spiritual fighter.”  Perhaps after 70 years of liberty and living under the guise of a “people’s republic,” Lu Xun would have found China as quiet as it was before the revolution or even as silent as it was under the Qing dynasty. The Party is primarily concerned about Chinese citizens who have the “voice” and “spirit of Lu Xun.”

Lu Xun’s writings are being deleted from high school language and literature curriculum (Liz Carter, 2013). “Who is terrified of Lu Xun?” generated a controversy. People are talking more about Lu Xun as a result of recent modifications to China’s teaching curriculum. Certain people have expressed their displeasure, saying that “Lu Xun’s articles have been withdrawn again; this demonstrates that some people have begun to fear that ordinary people are waking up and becoming conscious.” “Some individuals are terrified of the light even before the sun has risen.”

Chinese authorities recently restricted a bot user’s (@luxunbot25) twitter account, which used to broadcast some of the most noteworthy passages from Lu Xun’s works. Authorities, on the other hand, believe the messages are politically sensitive. (2019, Echo Huang) After “reaching the wall” in 1925, the twitter account released Lu Xun’s essay, urging young people to learn and adapt to the new period. “There are barriers everywhere in China, but they are invisible, like ‘ghost walls,’ so you will run into them nearly at any time. The only one who can conquer the wall without experiencing agony is the winner,” he said. The user may wish to convey a message to society about present internet restrictions, which is reminiscent of Lu Xun’s “iron house.”

Conclusion

The Guomindang government in the past and the Communists today, have and will always see Lu Xun’s writings as potentially subversive. Reading his words gives us the impression that China has never altered. If we read him without considering the historical context, it is difficult to tell that his writings are over a century old. The authorities believe Lu Xun poses a threat to them, which is why they are attempting to devalue his legacy. Realizing the genuine significance and worth of Lu Xun’s works is more vital than ever. “One might love or despise Lu Xun, but one cannot ignore him,” as the saying goes. Even if he had lived in today’s China, when everything appears to be transformed and a “developed society,” he would have written about the evils of society and expressed his discontent in the same style as he was used to, according to my understanding of Lu Xun.

Indian students studying medicine in China: Disruptions caused by the Covid Pandemic

Rama V. Baru,Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU and Honorary Fellow, ICS, Delhi and Madhurima Nundy, Fellow, Centre for Social and Economic Progress

Source: Hebei North University

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted both school and higher education across the world with indefinite closure of institutions and online learning.  For those who were enrolled or planning to enroll in professional courses like medicine especially in middle income countries like China and Russia, have faced the maximum disruption. According to the data put out by the MEA, the pandemic resulted in a 55 per cent dip in 2020 with only 2.6 lakhs students having gone abroad compared to 5.9 lakhs in the previous year. A small proportion of students travelling abroad is for medical education and nearly 30,000 of them are in China. The pandemic and diplomatic tensions between India and China has jeopardized the continuation of students studying medicine. The return of Indian students due to the first outbreak of COVID-19 in January 2020 has affected their study and career plans.  The rising anxiety due to this uncertainty is palpable. As Susan Ann Varghese of Thiruvananthapuram and a final year medical student at China, said that she “cannot go back as the Chinese government is not allowing the Indian students to return and the universities which had taken initiative to send us back home are not responding”.

Meanwhile, students are being instructed online by their respective Chinese medical colleges. But online teaching is not recognised by the National Medical Commission (NMC) in India and hence it creates concerns for students transacting classes in this mode.  The students recognise that online instruction will be inadequate to complete their training since practical exposure is critical for medical education.  They are also facing issues in accessing online classes since Chinese apps are banned in India and students have to purchase VPN to access the online classes. As a result, the students feel that they have been left in a lurch by both the governments. A union of students studying medicine in China have expressed their anguish to the Indian government: “We are 25,000 Indian students studying in Chinese universities who have been forced to participate in online classes for the past 17 months because of travel and visa restrictions. Our medical study requires a lot of practical and group work, but our entry to China and our respective universities have been banned for the past year-and-a-half and we are suffering every day.” With little hopes of returning to their campuses anytime soon, Indian medical students enrolled in China are now looking at mid-course transfers to institutes in India and other countries. However, this requires the NMC which is the apex administering body for medical education in India to allow the mid-course transfer. The NMC is silent on this matter for the moment.

The plight of students who have returned from China and other countries is also filled with anxiety and uncertainty since their employability is dependent on their clearing the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination.  The pass percentage over the last few years has been low and is demoralizing for the students travelling abroad for medical education. The Covid pandemic could have utilized the services of the large number of foreign medical graduates to supplement the shortage of medical personnel but this was not done.


FMGE result statistics (2019-2021)

Particulars 2021 (December) 2021 (June) 2020 (December) 2020 (June) 2019 (December)
Number of candidates appeared 23349 18,048 19,122 17,789 15663
Number of aspirants qualified 5665 (Pass % – 24.26) 4,283 (Pass % – 23.73) 3,722 (Pass % – 19.46) 1,453 (Pass % – 8.16) 4032 (Pass % – 25.74)
Number of failed candidates 17607 12,895 13,713 10026
Number of absentees 342 657 1,092
Number of aspirants with withheld status 77 213 136 1605

Clearly, the lack of policy engagement and direction from the NMC and the  Indian government to address the concerns of continuing students and those who have completed their course in China and other countries is unfair. There needs to be a review of the FMGE process and some kind of parity with those who completed their medical education from public and private medical colleges in India. It is worth considering an exit exam for all medical graduates irrespective where they were trained, as a pre requisite for employability. This is a reform that has been suggested at various points in time but has received little attention from the professional bodies. On the one hand there is a move to increase the number of seats for the training of medical graduates and on the other there is little effort to find ways to engage with the large number of foreign medical graduates who are looking for employment. Clearly, this impasse cannot go on for much longer since it affects a large number of young professionals who at the moment are frustrated by the indecisive attitude of the NMC and the Indian government.

Year 2022 and Xi Jinping’s Third Term: Is Xi Riding a Tiger He Cannot Get Off?

Hemant Adlakha, Vice Chairperson, ICS and Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Image: Xi Jinping riding a tiger
Source: twitter.com

A Chinese idiom says: If you ride a tiger, it’s hard to get off! Since being handed over China’s reign by the CPC a decade ago, Xi Jinping hasn’t experienced “the year of the tiger.” He will be riding into the tiger year this Chinese zodiac year – a crucial year for him. Speculations are high in the People’s Republic as everyone is asking: does Xi know how to get off a tiger?

It is well-known that the tiger occupies a unique position in traditional Chinese mythology. Of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, tigers are known to have potent personalities. They are considered to be strong, brash, impetuous and, above all, self-assured. However, while they are potent personalities, at the same time they are fundamentally dangerous. Xi Jinping emerged as the top communist party leader in China in November 2012 – two years after the last year of the tiger in 2010. Remember, in 2010 China edged out Japan and became the world’s second largest economy after the US. This year will be the first time Xi Jinping will be leading China into the year of the tiger. In fact, as observers tell us, Xi will usher China “riding a tiger” as the leader of the world’s largest economy.   

But does he know how to get off a tiger? For, in recent years, Chinese politics has increasingly become too “hot” at the top and is not for someone with a weak heart – especially when compared with the days of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, respectively. Of course, no one can disagree, Xi Jinping has been under mounting pressure since the last CPC Party Congress in 2017, when he forced his “Thoughts” into the party constitution and got rid of the 2-term limit to his leadership of the party and of the PRC. Hence, it is the mounting political pressure he has put himself under to succeed for the “unprecedented” third term at the top that explains Xi’s uncharacteristic and yet distinct shift towards populism during the entire past one year.

Image: Chinese Zodiac: Year of the Tiger
Source: studycli.org

Some say it is the widening social inequality – and Xi did not do anything for the first eight years – the biggest driving force behind Xi’s emphasis last year on “common prosperity.” Last August, Xi’s call for “prosperity of all” at the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs stands out as the most populist of his series of “populism” measures announced last year. Other populist announcements include massive national propaganda that China has abolished “absolute poverty”; steps to rein-in China’s monopoly capitalists such as big and large “fin-tech” entrepreneurs Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Pony Ma, among others; shutting down of highly profitable private online coaching shops that dominate the education industry; and last but not least is the state cracking down on Didi online cab service and on the real estate businesses.

Furthermore, just like Xi did not, or could not, do anything substantive to bridge yawning inequality during his two terms as the top leader, he also failed to carry it through to the end the campaign against corruption. Remember the great enthusiasm with which the new leader had launched the “anti-corruption” movement on coming to office in 2012. However, soon the common people in China could see through the hollow slogan Xi had coined at the time: we must uphold the fighting of “tigers” and “flies” at the same time. Though anti-corruption rhetoric has been maintained at a high pitch, yet it remained a mere propaganda and failed to “destabilize the rotten bureaucratic apparatus on which the CPC relies to rule.” At the end of Xi’s ten years of rule, likewise, calls for “common prosperity” – the so-called philanthropy from the super-rich and the need to reduce social inequality, are seen as mere “populism” aimed at deflecting rising discontent and resentment mostly among rural migrant workers and vast majority of marginalized rural youth.    

Image: The Year of the Tiger 2010: Before Xi became the CPC top leader
Source: wgm8.com

Ever since the CPC general secretary Xi declared, or some say claimed, the party has apparently extended its full support and endorsed Xi as the “core” leader and abandoned the principle of collective leadership. The global media as well as scholars abroad have been critical of the PRC president for “leading China away from the hybrid path taken by Deng Xiaoping and returning to a system of absolute rule by one individual without term limits, as under Mao Zedong.” Xi is also accused of returning China on “the road to disaster” by turning the CPC leadership back from authoritarianism towards one-person dictatorship. Moreover, serious doubts have been expressed over whether “unstoppable” Xi can end the world’s largest economy’s (in size) “Gilded Age” and lead China into “its own era of progressive reform.”

It is in this above backdrop, president Xi’s sudden, high-pitched “populism” in the past one year must be analysed, for political as well as for economic reasons. On the one hand, Xi’s populism actually relies upon “socialist nihilism” to quell ideological challenges from the Chinese left. On the other hand, Xi is using the state-led propaganda of “abolishing of absolute poverty” and “prosperity for all” as a political instrument to dupe the working people of China. As Joschka Fischer has explained in a Project Syndicate column recently, perhaps Xi may be right in thinking that for the CPC, a change in direction is clearly needed. “For Xi, the Chinese hybrid model that has developed since Deng now needs a fundamental readjustment and social reorientation to account for the escalating political confrontation with the US and the decline of the economy’s growth rate,” Fischer noted.

However, within China, in a nutshell, disregarding all the populist moves in the course of the year just gone by in which Xi has tried to drum up for consolidating his quest for the third term, his only claim to enjoying wider popularity within China is perhaps the manner in which Xi and his team managed to keep low the pandemic death toll. As according to Eric Li, a Shanghai-based venture capitalist and political scientist, once President Xi took charge of leading China’s counter fight against the epidemic – following Xi’s virtual meeting with the head of the WHO on January 28, 2020 – he has shown that “opportunism and shirking responsibility” are not in his leadership character. Li does not disagree that the Wuhan authorities had erred in the early stages of the virus outbreak about which very little was known. And the unexplained delay resulted in justified public anger – best manifested in Wuhan Diary written by the city-based well-known writer, Fang Fang – especially at the initial silencing of the whistleblowing Dr. Li. But Xi’s decision to lockdown Wuhan city and Hubei province turned out to be “the decision that saved the nation from a devastating catastrophe,” noted Eric Li.

Source: idlehearts.com

Finally, if Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping both could be credited to possess the required political skill to be able to both ride and get off a tiger – Mao for his extraordinary ability to lead China on the disastrous path to Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution and yet he continues to enjoy god-like status today, while Deng having had emerged from “three lows and three downs” into “chief architect” of a strong, modern China. In comparison, Xi’s only claim to be endowed with the unique Chinese skill “to ride and get off a tiger” lies is his ability to act with unprecedented high degree of firmness and character to lead China’s “people’s war” against a once-in-a-generation pandemic crisis. The world is still fighting the war to contain the corona pandemic, with both the number of infected cases and death toll rising. So is China. But with a difference – China has a communist party and Xi Jinping. If Eric Li, advocate for communist China and for Xi Jinping, is to be believed, Xi seems to have successfully managed to both “ride and get off” the Chinese tiger.     This blog was earlier published by thinkchina.sg on 20 January, 2022  under the title “Can Xi Jinping ride the tiger year with success?”.

China’s ‘Ides of Control’ and Social Credit System

Arushi Singh, Research Intern, ICS

Image: A city notice board in Rongcheng displaying model citizens with high social credit scores
Source: South China Morning Post

Just as the “Ides of March” served as a warning and ultimately, signified a perceptible pivot for the Roman Republic, China’s social credit system in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has marked a new era for the “Ides” of control and surveillance. The social credit system in China has proved adept at acclimating to the new realities brought to the fore by the Covid-19 pandemic. The government in China has introduced specific stipulations to modify the requirements in the system including alterations for repayment provisions devoid of drawbacks and inducements for some companies to help control the pandemic. Obligations have also been presented, which entail businesses to desisting from price gouging on health merchandise. In 2020, the social credit system covered 1.1 billion individuals through an integrated China social credit system officially declared in 2014. Notably, the earliest forms of the social credit system have been tested since 2009 on a regional level. However, the genesis of the philosophy responsible for the social credit system has been propounded by scholars for centuries in the making. It has traced back to China’s “Warring States” Era.

At the end of the Warring States era, the Qin leaders encouraged the rule of law to nourish a well-ordered societal structure. However, the current Chinese leaders are focused on a code of conduct that emphasizes values which encompass inclusiveness, harmony, civility and morality to retain order as well as concord while harnessing compliance. Experts attest to the fact that the social credit system is an ecosystem of initiatives that share some fundamental commonalities. Subsequently, 40 trials have been conducted to establish the current social credit system nationwide with their own objectives, distinctions, recompense and castigations to establish the current social credit system nationwide.

One of the most profound influences for the social credit system appears to draw insight from the doctrine of Legalism, which rose from the ashes of the Warring States era (475-221 BCE). The Chinese terminology fa-jia for legalism encompasses more than just law. It includes approaches, norms, and impersonal guidelines. The Legalists promoted in practice and works the usage of law as the primary tool of government wherein the focus was on punishment and reward. Their distinguishing attribute was the importance placed by them on the usage of law to expand the power of the sovereign besides the authority of the State. The Legalist thought, particularly regarding the law, may well be understood in the Austinian interpretation of law wherein any orders by the ruler are backed with a threat of force. The commentators have projected that the chief objective of the Legalists was to formulate policies that would better the martial and financial position of the state. This policy construction was also motivated by the political and societal circumstances during the Warring States era. The implementation, however, required the employment of a centralized authority directing the accumulation of power for the sovereign. The sovereign exerts this power via a system of bureaucracy with strict accountability and governance accomplished through laws that all citizens understand. Therefore, legalism controlled not only the citizenry but the bureaucracy as well.

This control is exercised through the mechanism of penalties and rewards in the current social credit system. The disadvantages are significant and are enforced by a range of current methods used by the government to ensure power encompassing the “hukou” system, detention, and incarceration for dissenting deeds or even the articulation of nonconforming sentiments. The social credit system was envisioned in 1999 under Zhu Rongji, who wanted to alleviate the complexity of external firms in obtaining data on their Chinese associates. The system was considered in official papers exclusively in market reforms. However, the real breakthrough came during the 2014 Five Year Plan (FYP), which encompassed the online revelation of the identity of citizens who have been chastised and those who have been compensated. Furthermore, there has been an enhanced congruence under President Xi Jinping of the legalist philosophy, who uses numerous quotations from legalist scholars in his speeches. Xi is the focal point of China both administratively and spiritually, and the power structure is etched to bring about his interpretation of law and policy.

The administrative control is additionally exercised by other developments, including the publication of “black list,” which heralded the penalties, and “red list”, which touts access to improved privilege for the citizens according to their actions which have been intensely documented through the vast surveillance network in China. There is also a list for companies called the irregularity list, which acts as a warning to improve scores. This further underscores discussions on privacy in China which are pretty different from the Western notion. Researchers have proposed that traditional Confucian philosophy praises morality rather than deference to individual rights as the basis for social interactions. Furthermore, privacy has conventionally entailed familial familiarity or dishonorable/scandalous secrets. On the other hand, the law in China is concerned with privacy as a right to protect one’s reputation against insult and libel. Notably, the governmental authorities have also maintained a dang’an, a dossier composed of detailed information about citizens residing in urban areas, which appears to have had a desensitized impact on privacy concerns.

Strategic analysts have also reflected upon the novel surveillance culture intending to essentially eradicate the apprehension and the prospect of observation of historical, Confucian-inspired conceptions of virtue. The emerging surveillance culture is prompted to imbibe the attributes and evaluate the citizenry through the social credit system on their perceived capacity to assist or impair the state. Thereby, a noticeable change in the surveillance change is witnessed wherein there is a purging of traditional Confucian conceptions such as the face, both of its inner moral dimension and its external, socially constituted dimension. Scholars have also noted that the credit score’s rationality is founded on social discipline, which is then reinforced by official public-private partnership rather than the Confucianism’s “face.” Furthermore, this step expands across an array of exchanges by citizens. For instance, big data is being employed to construct more effective policymaking and enforcement. Nevertheless, the Covid-19 pandemic has spotlighted on the limitations of surveillance systems. However, a pattern can be observed wherein novel technologies are utilized for the attainment of better social control and social management. Thereby, tackling social dilemmas and sequestering social instabilities.

Consequently, in its current reincarnation, the social credit system is expected to track every act and transaction by every Chinese citizen in real-time and respond to the aggregate of a citizen’s financial, societal, and ethical conduct with incentives and punishments. This dream is aided by ubiquitous algorithms designed to generate fiscally valuable, socially harmonized and politically obedient citizens who self-censor and restrict. Consequently, the corporate social credit can be utilized as a trade war weapon in an informal capacity by regional officials or an implicitly authorized order by the government. Furthermore, this system has a higher export value which is likely to interest other authoritarian and totalitarian systems worldwide.

The author is thankful to her mentor, Dr. Bhim Subba, Assistant Professor, University of Hyderabad. The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Why Will China Not Give Up on its ‘Dynamic Zeroing’ Covid-19 Strategy?

Hemant Adlakha, Vice Chairperson, ICS and Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

This article was published two months ago in Modern Diplomacy under the same title. However, following the revival and fast spreading of local variants of Covid-19, including Omicron, first in Xi’an and then in Yuzhou city in Henan province, and now in the northern port city of Tianjin near Beijing, questions have been raised in China on the rationality behind persisting with “zero tolerance” policy. I hope to come up with the second part of the article with focus on resurging Covid-19 cases in China and the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Image: Where is the exit from China’s zero tolerance on Covid-19?
Source: scmp.com

The world is again at war with China. This time, the war is not about China’s aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy; nor is it about China threatening to use force to reunify with Taiwan. Instead, if one goes by what the global media says, this new round of “war” is an ego clash between what China calls Covid-19 “dynamic zeroing” and what the West is practicing – “living with virus strategy.”

Last year, Dr. Li Wenliang, who raised an alarm about the coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak, was forced by the police in Wuhan to write “self-confession” and was told to immediately stop spreading false rumours. Within a few days, Dr. Li caught the infection and was hospitalized, where he succumbed to the virus and died three weeks later. Of course, Li was not infectious disease expert, he was an ophthalmologist at the Wuhan Central Hospital. A little over a year later, when Zhang Wenhong, a doctor in Shanghai who has been compared with the top US health official Dr. Anthony Fauci, wrote on his Weibo blog indicating China might have to live with the Covid-19 pandemic, he had to face vicious attacks by the official media and the Chinese health authorities. For, Dr. Wenhong had come in the cross hairs with China’s official “dynamic zeroing” strategy aimed at eliminating the coronavirus.

It is important to recall, since early last year China has been strictly adhering to a “zero tolerance” (Qingling in Chinese) policy for Covid-19, under which authorities have imposed strict border controls, travel restrictions, lockdowns and at times carried out mass testing as and when new Covid-19 cases emerged. Furthermore, the success of “zero tolerance” policy which resulted in long stretches of zero new cases was drummed up by the communist leadership of the country as the secret for successful coronavirus pandemic containment strategy. “China’s government attributed the effective virus containment to the phenomenal leadership of the communist Party and its institutional superiority over Western liberal democratic systems,” commented The Diplomat two months ago. (Emphasis added).

Image: China’s zero-Covid strategy risks leaving it isolated for years
Source: Bloomberg.com

Rise in regional flare-ups

However, more recently, China experienced regional flare-ups of the globally prevalent delta variant, including in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. As a result, Beijing authorities were forced to postpone the capital city’s annual marathon scheduled to be held on 31 October. A week earlier, on 24 October, Beijing’s Universal Studios theme park also took preventive measures and started testing all its employees after it was found out that a suspected case had visited the Studios. At the same time, Shanghai Disneyland and Disney town were temporarily shut down as part of the pandemic prevention drive. According to China’s English language newspaper, Caixin Daily, the decision to suddenly close Disneyland followed the emergence of a new Covid-19 case in neighbouring Zhejiang province, it was someone who had visited the Shanghai attraction.

In fact, the recent flare-ups spread across over twenty provinces and areas in China have been attributed to a cluster of Covid-19 cases in Ejin Banner in the remote Inner Mongolia that is in the Gobi region. According to reports, nearly 9,000 tourists who were visiting the Gobi Desert during China’s National Day “golden week” holidays were trapped there, mostly in quarantine. The Chinese tourists had gone there to spend time in the famous poplar forests where trees turn golden yellow during this time of the year. An official Chinese media outlet reported “the recent local Covid-19 outbreaks that began in mid-October have spread to two-thirds of China’s 31 provincial-level regions, with more than 1,000 locally transmitted infections.” Attributing delta variants as the cause for the country’s second wave of the pandemic, one of China’s top epidemiologists, Dr. Zeng Guang, a former head of Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), opined China must continue with emergency measures, including maintaining long quarantines and vigorous contact tracing, until a “barrier of immunity” has been established.

Living with the virus” is more costly

While acknowledging that the global challenges in containing the delta variant will mean that society must learn how to coexist with Covid-19, Zeng emphasized that “China will need to continue its ‘zero tolerance’ strategy against Covid-19 with nationwide emergency responses.” Reacting sharply to the last of few remaining countries which too have finally shifted from eliminating strategy to trying to live with the virus – for example, New Zealand, Singapore and Australia – China’s most celebrated infectious disease expert and “national hero” Dr. Zhong Nanshan has strongly defended “zero tolerance” strategy on the grounds that measures to deal with sporadic Covid-19 outbreaks are less costly than treating patients after they have been infected. “The cost is truly high, but compared with not managing it, relaxing (the zero tolerance policy), then that cost is even higher,” Dr. Zhong Nanshan said in a recent TV interview.

Image: How long can China chase COVID zero?
Source: japantimes.co.jp

Remember, China has reported about 4,600 deaths due to COVID pandemic. In comparison, the US with just a quarter of China’s population and a far more expensive and superior health care system has lost over 755,000 lives. No wonder China’s foreign ministry spokesperson has recently disdainfully dismissed the US as an “inferior system” and a “total failure.” Defending the Chinese government policy, Dr. Zhong Nanshan questioned all those countries (mostly the developed countries in the West) that had relaxed their policies amid a drop in Covid-19 cases only to go on to later suffer a large number of infections. “The global mortality rate for people infected with Covid-19, which spreads fast and continues to mutate, is currently around two per cent. We [China] cannot tolerate such a high mortality rate,” the top Chinese epidemiologist said.

The logic of China’s “zero tolerance” policy

Refuting the logic offered by Dr. Zhong Nanshan in defense of China’s “zero tolerance” policy, i.e. it is more effective and less costly to contain Covid-19 than treating patients after they have been infected, an overseas Chinese scholar Zhuoran Li attributed China’s so-called success in fighting the pandemic to the Maoist doctrine of mass line and the CPC’s Leninist identity, respectively. “The key to implementing this ‘zero tolerance’ is the CPC’s mass mobilization capability. The CPC has viewed mobilization as a ‘secret weapon’ throughout its history. After Mao’s Mass Line became a key to the CPC’s victory in 1949, the Party continued to rely heavily on mass mobilization to achieve its goal – social transformation between 1949 and 1956; steel and food production between 1958 and 1961; or combating natural disasters in 1998 and 2008,” Zhuoran Li argues.

At another level, adding a different dimension to Zhuoran Li’s argument, another overseas Chinese scholar, Yanzhong Huang, a senior research fellow with the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) has observed: “It’s becoming part of the official narrative that promotes the approach and links to the superiority of the Chinese political system.” Maybe true, however, from China’s point of view, what is most disturbing is there is a lack of consensus within the official narrative. Take Ruili for example, a southwestern city surrounded by Myanmar on three sides and currently the center of the highest flare-up. According to Ruili residents, they have been the worst victims of China’s zero-transmission strategy as they have been subjected to multiple rounds of quarantine, lockdowns and excessive Covid19 testing. The local city authorities have put the blame for the plight of the 270,000 residents on the successive flare-ups on “traders and refugees who frequently cross the border into China.” On the other hand, the angry residents in the city have been complaining of the escalating financial as well as social costs for having been left alone to cope with the epidemic.

Image: China is keeping its borders closed, and turning it inwards
Source: economist.com

Furthermore, foreign experts and the global media have maintained that China either doesn’t want to admit or the authorities in Beijing are yet to realize – as most or nearly all countries have – that not only the virus is now permanent but also that there is no chance in the long run that a zero-Covid strategy could work in terms of achieving complete elimination. This confusion is the official narrative in China has been best manifested in a public spat between the mayor and the deputy mayor of Ruili. Last month, Dai Rongli, the deputy mayor posted an essay on his personal social media blog highlighting the difficulties city residents have been facing due to the pandemic prevention policies. “The pandemic has mercilessly robbed this city time and again, squeezing dry the city’s last sign of life,” the deputy mayor wrote. Within days, an infuriated city mayor Shang Labian criticized his deputy in an interview with a Chinese digital news platform saying: “Ruili does not need outside support and sympathy.”

To sum up, it is indeed true that most people in China support the country’s strict pandemic prevention policies. Yet undeterred by what most other countries are claiming, that is, “the illness will circulate in perpetuity and can only be encountered with high immunization rates,” the Chinese leadership is standing firm on its resolve that the zero-transmission strategy is less costly. Liang Wannian, the head of China’s “leading small group” under the Ministry of Health to combat Covid19, has refuted as baseless claims that China is persisting with its zero-transmission strategy for political reasons such as holding of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022 and the 20th CPC National Congress in October next year.

Image: The Delta Variant and China’s Need to Change its COVID-19 Policy?
Source: nytimes.com

Dynamiczeroing is not zero transmission, nor is it China’s permanent strategy. Whether to change the current pandemic prevention strategy depends on the trend of the global epidemic, the mutation of the virus, the change in the severity of the disease and the level of vaccination coverage in China and other factors,” Liang said. In other words, Liang Wannian almost confirmed what experts outside China have been claiming: “They [China] are not confident about the effectiveness of [their own] vaccines – the ability to prevent infections.” Therefore, China has been caught in its own trap of “zero transmission” or “dynamic zeroing.”

The US Policy towards China: Obama, Trump, and Biden Administrations

Ashu Maan, Research Intern, ICS

China and the United States have been explicitly at loggerheads in the past few years. However, issues of contentions in Sino-US ties have existed in the past as well. This research blog attempts to understand the US Policy towards China during three different administrations –   Obama administration; Trump administration  and Biden administration.  Additionally, the blog also attempts to understand India’s position in the  US-China conflict.

Obama Administration

Barrack Obama was the first African American to become the president of the United States and he was also the first American president to visit China in the first year of his presidency. However, Obama administration’s China policy seemed inept as it faced several challenges one after another. On his state visit, Obama was criticized by the media for “not displaying American values” and being “lead by the nose”. Obama’s unsatisfactory visit to China was further followed by ‘Failure to secure an ambitious Copenhagen deal’ at the Copenhagen Climate summit in 2009. Additionally, the American spy apparatus in China was being unearthed and assets were disappearing. Despite the challenges, Obama administration leaned towards engaging China rather than confronting it considering China’s rising economic stature globally. China overtook Japan and became the second-largest economy in the world during his presidency and the Obama administration was quick to realise and accept China’s new reality as an economic heavyweight. Obama administration believed that it was best to cooperate with China as was evident from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton February 2009 remarks – “some believe that China on the rise is, by definition, an adversary, but on the contrary, we believe that the United States and China can benefit from and contribute to each other’s successes. It is in our interests to work harder to build on areas of common concern and shared opportunities”.

Further President Obama with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao initiated the ‘U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue’ in 2009. The dialogue was aimed at discussing bilateral, regional, and global issues between the two countries. On the trade front the US-China trade rose from $ 40.7 Billion in 2008 to $ 57.8 Billion in 2016. The trade deficit in the same period increased from $ 268,039.8 Million to $ 346,825.2 Million.

Table 1: U.S. trade in goods with China (Million US $)

Year Export Import Balance
2008 69,732.80 337,772.60 -268,039.80
2009 69,496.70 296,373.90 -226,877.20
2010 91,911.10 364,952.60 -273,041.60
2011 104,121.50 399,377.20 -295,249.70
2012 110,516.60 425,619.10 -315,102.50
2013 121.746.20 440,430.00 -318,683.50
2014 123,657.20 468,474.90 -344,817.70
2015 115,873.40 483,201.70 -367,328.30
2016 115,594.80 462,420.00 -346,825.20

Source: Compiled from United States Census Bureau.

Trump Administration

Trump throughout his presidential campaigns was vocal about his criticisms of globalization particularly in the context of the ills plaguing the US work force. Donald Trump blamed China for taking jobs away from traditional industries like iron and steel and popularised the slogan of ‘America First.’ By the time Trump came to power, China had clearly become a “competitor” as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s “partner”. Trump was straightforward in dealing with China as he termed it an outright adversary, blamed it for stealing Intellectual Property from American companies operating in China, and started the infamous trade war. In the trade war, Trump realized that China was capable of countering trade sanctions and equal retaliation. It is important to note that although aimed at China, Trump’s infamous trade war also affected United States’ closest allies in Europe and Canada. On the trade front, the U.S.-China trade under Trump decreased from $ Billion 578 in 2016 to $ Billion 558 in 2020. Naturally, the trade deficit also decreased from $ Million 346,825.2 to $ Million 310,263.5 in 2020.

Table 2: U.S. trade in goods with China (Million US $)

YEAR EXPORT IMPORT BALANCE
2016 115,594.8 462,420.0 -346,825.2
2017 129,997.2 505,165.1 -375,167.9
2018 120,281.2 538,514.2 -418,232.9
2019 106,448.4 450,760.4 -344,312.0
2020 124,485.4 434,749.0 -310,263.5

Source: Compiled using data from United States Census Bureau.

Biden Administration

Joe Biden came to power in December 2020. Biden’s policy has been the same as Trump with one change – Biden is engaging with Washington’s closest allies in Europe and Asia in countering China. Since coming to power, Biden has prioritized building alliances and reinvigorating old ones. So far, Biden’s China policy has been well received.  In March 2021, the European Union, Canada, and the United States imposed joint sanctions on Chinese officials in Xinjiang. The Biden administration also reinvigorated the QUAD grouping and hosted the first leaders meeting of the QUAD countries namely Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. India and Australia have engaged fully with QUAD owing to Chinese actions on its Himalayan borders and sanctions levied on Australia due to Australia asking for investigation into the origin of Coronavirus. Since coming into power, there have been two leaders’ summit of QUAD, the first one was held virtually on 9 March 2021 and the Second one i.e., the first in person leaders’ summit was held in Washington D.C on 24 September, 2021.  To counter China the grouping is focusing on areas such as trade, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Infrastructure, vaccinations etc as depicted from the formation of working groups during the two meetings.

Apart from QUAD the Biden administration also formed a security alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom, popularly known as AUKUS. The group is focused on countering China’s influence in the Western Pacific region by providing Australia with eight nuclear-powered and conventionally armed submarines. The aim of the pact is to modernize the Australian navy by giving access to cutting-edge military technology to Australia including artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities.

India’s Role in the Sino-US Conflict

During the last great power rivalry between US and USSR, India spearheaded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) with an aim to remain neutral in the rivalry. During the Cold War neither Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson nor Nixon wanted India as an ally. An economically weak India would be an additional security burden for the US and for the American taxpayer because as Eisenhower put it, the US would have to defend “2,000 miles more of the active frontier”.

Unlike the Cold War, stakes are high and personal for India in the US-China rivalry. India shares a long land border with China and there have several border disputes. This time India cannot sit on the sidelines and watch from far. As can be seen from the recent trends, India’s China policy seems to be aligned with that of the U.S to a considerable extent. India has engaged vigorously with QUAD since border clashes with China last year. India’s role in the US-China rivalry will be of balancing and containing China with other Asian and Oceania allies i.e., Japan and Australia. India is slated to become the third-largest economy by 2030 overtaking Japan and Germany and is already among the strongest militaries in the world. India has a significant footprint in the Indian ocean via Andaman and Nicobar Islands and its partnership with France and Seychelles. India, through the courtesy of Andaman and Nicobar Island can impede China’s access to the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean by blockading Malacca Strait during times of conflict.  

Though there have been many areas of contentions between India and the United States in the past, they are at present focusing on cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally. It is important to note that China will not be contained just by security alliances but by economic and technological alliances. The United States should actively look to decouple its economy and manufacturing and diversify into countries like India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. The United States must accept the new realities of the world and understand that the future of the world will be multipolar. The United States through alliances and partnerships can counter China.

What does China gain from its South Pacific Engagement?

Wonchibeni Patton, Research Intern, ICS

Image: President Xi Jinping with eight Pacific island countries’ leaders at the 26th APEC Economic Leaders Meeting
Source: Getty Images

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the third-largest aid donor to the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), spending around US$1.76 billion in aid towards the region. In its aid programme, the PRC emphasises on equality, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. On this note, the following paragraphs examine the benefits that the PRC gains from its engagement with the PICs.

Scholars have identified the PRC’s two main interests in the PICs as political and economic. Political or diplomatic interests include decreasing Taiwan’s diplomatic clout and gaining the support of the PICs at multilateral forums, mainly the United Nations (UN). The PRC and Taiwan rigorously engaged in “chequebook diplomacy” in the 1990s, competing for diplomatic recognition from the PICs until 2008 when President Ma Ying-Jeou of the Kuomintang government came to power in Taiwan and led to a diplomatic truce. Before 2019, Taiwan had six diplomatic allies in the region, but this was reduced to four when the Solomon Islands, followed by Kiribati, switched to the PRC in September of 2019. There were several reports that the PRC had baited both countries with promised aid: US$500 million for the Solomon Islands and funds for aeroplanes and commercial ferries for Kiribati

Although the PICs occupy only 15 per cent of the world’s surface, with a cumulative population of around 13 million, they hold about 7 per cent of UN votes. The PRC’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has often been questioned, and the PRC is often targeted at the UN for its human rights record. The Xinjiang issue has been raised twice at the UNHRC in the recent past-2019 and 2021. Both were led by countries from the West. However, both times the PRC responded with greater support from its “Like-Minded Group”- a term used to describe a loose coalition of developing states often led by the PRC, Russia and Egypt . In 2020, when the issue of China’s new national security law in Hong Kong was raised at the 44th session of the UNHRC by 27 countries, Papua New Guinea was amongst the 53 countries that backed the PRC. In 2021, when the human rights situation in Xinjiang was raised at the 47th UNHRC session by Canada with the support of 44 countries, a coalition of 69 countries led by Belarus responded in China’s support. The PICs Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were included in the 69. Thus, the PRC has been successful at garnering increasing support from the PICs on issues concerning its interests in international fora.

The PRC’s economic interests in the region include the promotion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the hunt for raw materials. All the ten diplomatic partners of the PRC in the region have signed up for the BRI. The PICs’ total exclusive economic zones (EEZs) extend across nearly 7.7 million square miles of ocean. This can be beneficial to China’s endeavours in exploring and extracting natural resources. Some of the PICs are blessed with abundant natural resources and raw materials in terms of minerals, metals, fossil fuels, fisheries and wood. A global audit of Pacific resource extraction undertaken by the Guardian’s Pacific Project revealed that China is the largest importer of the region’s natural resources, importing resources worth US$3.3 billion in 2019. In the mining industry, the PRC has invested in seven mining projects across the region, with the largest one being the US$1.4 billion Ramu nickel and cobalt mine in PNG. PNG and Fiji have been the main focus of investments in this field. Other major operations include the Porgera gold mine and the Frieda River Copper project in PNG, the Nawailevu Bauxite mining project and the Vatukoula gold mine in Fiji, and so on. These operations are partly owned and run by Chinese SOEs such as Zijin Mining Group, Xinfa Aurum Exploration and Zhongrun International Mining. In 2019, PNG exported US$2.3 billion worth of oil, metals and minerals to China while Fiji exported US$4.8 million of the same.

The Pacific region is the world’s most fertile fishing ground. China imported US$100 million worth of seafood products from the region in 2019. However, Chinese vessels have also been involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which has been threatening the region’s revenue sources and food security. Even though the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) states that China has around 600 licensed vessels fishing in the area, various estimates of the Chinese fleet range between 1,600 and 3,400 vessels. The major exporters of tropical logs in the region are PNG and Solomon Islands, where forestry is a major industry. According to the US Department of Agriculture report, in 2020, Papua New Guinea was the largest hardwood log exporter to China, accounting for 21 per cent of China’s total imports, followed by the Solomon Islands. The Pacific region’s emerging potential as the ‘blue economy’ has also caught Chinese interest. China has started looking into Deep Sea Mining by conducting research projects through the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA). They have identified polymetallic and cobalt nodules, hydrothermal sulfide deposits and have also produced several deep-sea mining maps in the Pacific. Furthermore, in 2017, China signed a 15-year exploration contract for polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific Ocean with the International Seabed Authority. Although the gains from the Sino-Pacific engagement may not be equal in quantity, Sino-Pacific engagement can be considered a qualitative ‘win-win’. Certainly, China’s primary goals in the region are being met to some degree on both the political and economic fronts.