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The recent White Paper (WP) on China's military strategy affirms that the country generally enjoys a favourable environment for development, but external challenges are increasing. Though only briefly mentioned, the Middle Kingdom faces many internal threats too. The WP speaks of many multiple and complex security risks, “leaving China an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests?”
Of course in Beijing’s eyes, the main villain is Washington; Beijing does not appreciate the US ‘rebalancing’ strategy’ and its enhanced military presence in the region. Then, there is Japan. Mao would have probably called Tokyo a US lackey; the WP affirms that Japan is “sparing no effort to dodge the post-war mechanism, overhauling its military and security policies.”
In view of these major threats, Beijing believes that China now “faces a long-standing task to safeguard its maritime rights and interests.” Other nations certainly do not share the same perception about peace and stability in the region; this does not bother Beijing as the WP affirms: “Some of its offshore neighbours take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China’s reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied.” It further adds: “Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs; a tiny few maintain constant air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China”.
Well, there is another side to the coin. Ask Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines or even India for that matter, they can tell you.
The WP lists the Korean Peninsula and North-east Asia as being ‘shrouded in instability and uncertainty’, but perhaps more importantly for Beijing, the “Taiwan independence separatist forces”, are described as the biggest threat to the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations. That is not all, and here come the ‘internal’ threats “Separatist forces for ‘East Turkistan independence’ (Xinjiang) and ‘Tibet independence’ have inflicted serious damage, particularly with escalating violent terrorist activities by ‘East Turkistan independence’ forces.” Beijing should seriously consider this particular menace at a time when China is financing the Pakistan Economic Corridor. It is also an open admission that Beijing is more bothered by a ‘terrorist’ Xinjiang than a non-violent ‘Tibet’.
One of the WP’s conclusions is that “China’s national security is more vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, serious natural disasters and epidemics, and the security of overseas interests concerning energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication.”
In the years to come, this will practically translate to an important enhancement of the capacity of the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). China believes that the future belongs to those who will run the Sea. Has Delhi got the message?
Though Beijing has not given them the same pre-eminence as the ‘external threats’, the ‘internal’ ones, mainly Xinjiang and Tibet and the Internet, are serious enough to call a three-day special meeting (held from May 18 to 20 in Beijing) of the United Front Work Department (UFW) of the CPC’s Central Committee. To tackle the internal dangers, Beijing badly needs the support of those still outside the Party. Addressing the UFW delegates, President Xi Jinping asked them to befriend and recruit more non-CPC intellectuals and business people. He further stressed their crucial role in economic development as well as in ‘cleansing’ the Internet. Xi invited the expertise of people like Jack Ma of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Lei Jun of Xiaomi Corp, to join the collective effort to build the Chinese Dream: “To unite the non-CPC intellectuals is basic and strategically important work under the party’s efforts to unite the nation and pool strength for realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation”.
According to Xinhua, Xi vowed to develop the widest patriotic united front to support the great Chinese renaissance. The President added: “Students studying abroad should also be encouraged to return home and serve the country in various ways.”
He asked communist officials to make friends with non-CPC intellectuals in ‘doing ideological work’ “Excellent non-CPC representatives should be guided to grasp the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Easier said than done!
He concluded by exhorting the cadres to be “sincere, modest and clean so that they can gain respect from non-CPC members and help them work together with the party.”
Xinhua noted that the conference came “against the backdrop of mounting challenges to the party’s agenda, including pro-democracy protests last year in Hong Kong and ethnic unrest in the far western region of Xinjiang.”
While the Defence publication is meant to tackle external threats, the UFW meeting was about ‘internal’ issues.
Around that time, Voice of America (Chinese programme) quoted the Ming Pao published in Hong Kong, which reported that the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League (CYL) had decided to recruit 10.5 million Internet youth ‘propagandists’, mainly from colleges and universities.
What is a ‘propagandist’?
Beijing needs to keep a tab and ‘help’ some 650 million Chinese Internet users to think as the Party wants them to think. This was revealed after the database of the Shanghai and Chongqing Communist Youth League (CYL) was hacked. On 4 April this year, a ‘Report on Public Opinion on the Internet’ from Donghua University came to light; it contained instructions on what should be tolerated (and what shouldn’t) on the Internet on a wide number of subjects, including military, political, and economic topics. In China, the ‘propagandists’ are known as the ‘Fifty Cent Party’ because they are paid 50 cents per ‘propaganda’ post supporting the Party. Thus they are able to monitor, control and direct the thought process of students. Beijing uses also ‘religion’ to control the masses.
At the time of the UFW conference, Madam Sun Chunlan, head of the UFW Department met some Tibetan Buddhist monks, who had just graduated as geshe (doctor) in Buddhist philosophy.
Incidentally, this is first time in recent years that a member of the Politburo also heads the UFW. It shows the importance of ‘co-opting’ non-Communist forces into the Chinese Dream and controlling the restive provinces. China Tibet Online reported that the awards ceremony was held at the Tibetan Buddhism College of China in Beijing on 20 May.
Madam Sun declared that the academic degree system advanced by the present Tibetan Buddhists is “an important measure in fostering Tibetan Buddhist religious believers to love their country and religion, as well as adapting religion to socialist society.” In other words, China trains Tibetan geshes with ‘socialist and Chinese characteristics’!
Madam Sun believed that these new geshes “would cherish and honour their award, help religious people, promote social development and the fine Tibetan Buddhism tradition of loving their country and religion,” and of course “observe and uphold the law, protect the country and its people, promote economic development and social and religious harmony.”
During the UFW conference, Xi Jinping also spoke of the “the positive influence that religious people and believers have on social and economic development.”
He pleaded with the UFW officials to make ‘active efforts’ to incorporate religions in socialist society, adding that ‘religions in China must be Chinese’.
Even the Tibetan religion should be ‘Chinese’!
In the meantime, another self-immolation was reported on the Tibetan plateau: a Tibetan woman set fire to herself protesting against Chinese repression in Gansu province. It is the second self-immolation this month. The International Campaign for Tibet based in Washington said that Sangye Tso, a 36-year-old mother of two, committed the fatal act outside a Chinese government building in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. She died immediately.
There is clearly a great disconnect between the official speech and the reality in Tibet and Xinjiang; this is the most serious ‘internal’ threat facing China today; a few ‘socialist’ geshes will not solve the problem.