Thursday, November 21, 2013

China’s 2013 yin-yang: Reforms and Security

My article China’s 2013 yin-yang: Reforms and Security appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer today.

Here is the link...

At the Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, the new regime in Beijing decided that social reform and national security will be its priority for the next nine years

For millennia, Chinese philosophy has believed in the concept of yin and yang; seemingly opposite forces are interconnected and give rise to each other; yang is white with the black dot, while the yin is the reverse, black with the white dot. Wikipedia says: “Many natural dualities are thought of as physical manifestations of the yin-yang.”
The new leadership in Beijing seems to have adapted the concept to political philosophy; after 4 days of discussions (from November 9 to 12), the Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee has, amongst other things, delivered 2 new Leading Groups: one on reforms (it was expected) and more surprisingly, a National Security Committee (NSC).
The statement issued at the end of the conclave explains: “The general objective of the approved reforms is to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics …development is still the key to solving all problems in China.”
That is the ‘yang’, but for the ‘yin’, Xi Jinping and his colleagues believe that the doom of the former Soviet Union (where internal security apparatus had become weak, corrupt and ineffective) needs to be avoided at all cost. The present regime thinks that if effective reforms are not introduced, the days of the Communist Party are counted. They may be right.
Referring to the Third Plenum of 1978 which saw Deng Xiaoping implementing large-scale economic reforms, the Party said that the then ‘reform and opening-up’ led the CPC into a ‘new era’, adding that the present reforms would decide the destiny of modern China.
The statement concluded with “the need to deepen reforms in order to build a moderately prosperous society, and a strong and democratic country, as well as realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.” It might just be a dream, though Sinocism, an excellent newsletter, which analyses the current events in China, commented: “The decision is impressive and shows that the leadership is both aware of and committed to deep reforms. …the truly hard part is not the drafting but the implementation of changes that will affect interests throughout society. But at least Xi has clearly articulated [his] resolve and vision for reform.”
Amongst the sectors to be reformed, the Plenum mentioned building a more impartial and sustainable social security system; encompassing an improved housing guarantee; strengthening the protection of intellectual property rights; encouraging innovation, etc.
The 204-member Central Committee has further decided to allow more non-state-owned capital into the market to develop a ‘mixed-ownership economy’; to accelerate the reform of the ‘hukou’ system (household registration) in order to help farmers become urban residents and to promote market-oriented reform in state-owned enterprises by breaking monopolies and introducing competition. An immense programme!
The Chinese ‘masses’ will particularly welcome the loosening of the one-child population policy, which will allow in some cases couples to have two children.
Though the decision to move forward is certainly a positive step, the implementation of the reforms won’t be easy.
Another welcome decision is that economic growth regardless of environment will not be permitted in regions located in ecologically fragile areas. Does it mean that China will drop its plan to divert the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) or other rivers originating from ‘fragile’ Tibet? Let us hope that common sense will prevail and the nefarious plans will be shelved.
A measure to be watched is the abolishing the infamous ‘reeducation through labor’ system. But what will replace it, already question many Western Human rights organizations? Beijing has also announced that it will ‘step by step’ reduce the number of crimes subject to death penalty. Once again, it is easier said than done.
A host of other measures have been taken ‘to ensure that the authority of the constitution and laws is upheld’. Only the future (the 9 coming years) will tell us if the Communist system is reformable, or if it is condemned to follow the Soviet Union’s model.
But there is a more important side (yin?) to the ‘yang’ coin, the ‘stability’ factor. According to Beijing all these new open-policies are possible only if China is stable: "State security and social stability are preconditions for reform and development", said Xi adding that only when the nation is safe and society is stable, could reform and development constantly advance.
This seems the justification for the creation of the NSC; as Xi put it: “The main responsibilities of the national security commission will include construction of the rule of law system concerning state security, research, resolving major issues of national security, setting principles and policies, as well as stipulating and implementing strategies.”
The NSC will deal with internal as well external issues: “China is facing two pressures: internationally, the country needs to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests; domestically, political security and social stability should be ensured”, explained Xi, adding: “The variety of predictable and unpredictable risks has been increasing remarkably, and the system has not yet met the needs of safeguarding state security.”
Reuters said that it “will enable the government to speak with a single voice when it comes to dealing with crises at home and abroad.”
‘Internal’ security has traditionally meant muzzling the opposition to the regime. It will continue to be the case. While actively popularizing the Internet, the Plenum decided to ‘reinforce its overall administration over cyberspace in accordance with the law and accelerate formation of a sound Internet management system”. It is quite ominous.
Though analysts believe that the NSC is based on the National Security Council of the United States, it will have snooping facilities like the US notorious National Security Agency. Reuters says that the NSC “would increase coordination among the various wings of China's security bureaucracy, split now among the police, military, intelligence and diplomatic services”.
Tibet and Xinjiang are two of the ‘internal’ threats which will be dealt by the new body. Recently, the repression has increased in both restive regions with the State tightly monitoring the lives of the Tibetans and the Uyghurs. The self-immolations in Tibet have been the most visible consequence of the stiffening of the security apparatus.
The New York Times’ concludes: “One year after taking leadership of the party, Mr. Xi is looking like an assertive, even imperial president, who sits well above his six colleagues on the Politburo Standing Committee.”
Will the new Emperor ‘reform’ the Middle Kingdom? We shall have to wait a few years to know. In the meantime Delhi should definitely be alert as the NSC will also be responsible for the Sino-Indian border issue.
The ‘lack of coordination’ during the Depsang Plain incident in Ladakh in April is probably one of the many reasons which led to having a NSC.
Delhi should also take a few pages from China’s reforms program, but presently the government is too busy distributing Bharat Ratnas.

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