THE BIGGER PICTURE: 'Chinese dream' will haunt the new world as leadership transition tells world what the country is all about

By Manoj Joshi


On Saturday, China completed the process of its once in- a-decade leadership transition. It has been one of the smoothest transitions of leadership in recent decades.

Xi Jinping, who was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of its Central Military Commission in November, has taken over as the President of the country, along with a new prime minister Li Keqiang and a council of ministers.

In taking over the three offices in such quick time, he has emerged as the most powerful Communist party boss since Deng Xiaoping.


He has wasted little time in consolidating his authority. No doubt circumstances, notably the Bo Xilai affair and other corruption scandals have aided the process.

Though his first tour to the southern, economically vibrant zones, including Shenzhen was aimed at signaling his commitment to economic growth and reform, his most significant actions so far seem to have been in stamping his authority over the crucial pillar of the CPC - the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the country's national security policy.

It was in this tour that he delivered a speech to senior PLA brass and party officials, where he stressed the need for "absolute loyalty" of the PLA to the CPC. Many western analysts have been pointing to the signs of the growing importance of the PLA and the role that it has played in the factional politics of the Chinese leadership.

In the four months that Xi has been in power, he has undertaken a largescale reshuffle of the top leaders of the PLA general staff departments, as well as the seven military regions.

Last month, the military authorities issued "Ten Regulations on improving the Work Style of the Army", aimed at checking corruption and high living among the mid and senior level officers.

Among its more draconian prescriptions is the banning of liquor from public functions. Senior officers have been asked not to talk out of turn, and get clearance from the Central Military Commission General Office before commenting on sensitive issues to the media.


Of greater significance, perhaps, was Xi's January visit to the Guangzhou Military Region - the one that fronts the South China Sea. According to observers, it was significant that the Chinese media described it as the Guangzhou "war theatre" rather than the "military region" that it is.

It was during this visit that the new General Secretary emphasised his requirements of the PLA, "We must ensure that our troops are ready when called upon, that they are fully capable of fighting, and that they must win every war".

This has rung alarm bells across the region because it breaks away from the anodyne statements that leaders make about the need for "readiness" in the armed forces, or their duty to "defend national interests."

All this has generated unease and indeed fear, among China's neighbours, particularly Japan. In recent months, China has stepped up pressure on the Senkaku islands, which it claims.

There has been an increase in Chinese air and sea activity in the seas around the islands, which are currently under Japanese control. Japan is a useful target for Chinese nationalism.

Given the history of the Japanese military invasions and atrocities, it is fodder to the ultranationalist forces in China.

Indeed, it was in the 1894-95 invasion of the country that Japan is alleged to haveto the post of the head of the CPC, Xi was given charge of the top interagency group, which had been oversee China's maritime disputes. So it is not without significance that it is since Xi took charge that the Chinese have been active in the Senkaku area.

But Japan is not the only target. In November 2012, China issued new regulations, effective January 1, which would allow the police of the Hainan prefecture to board and search ships, which in the Chinese views, were trespassing in their waters in the South China Sea.

This is bringing China's other neighbours in the region into a zone of tension. But the country most affected could be the Philippines.

But, both Japan and the Philippines could well be proxy targets because they are tied with the United States through Mutual Defence treaties.

The Chinese are playing this carefully. In December, they took their claims to the continental shelf of the east China sea (which affects the Senkaku islands) to the United Nations.

But it is the Philippines that is proposing arbitration on the South China sea. Whatever be the case, the bottom line here is that China has a new and vigorous leader who has made it clear that he is determined to outdo his predecessors and fulfill the "Chinese dream".

What kind of a world view constitutes that dream is not yet clear. But it has important consequences for peace, tranquility and prosperity of the world.

By ratcheting up tension, they are also causing alarm in other countries that use the busy South China Sea as the shortest and most convenient link between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Chinese could well end up the losers as the countries affected could band together to offset Chinese aggressiveness.

Worse, it could well trigger off Japanese nationalism and rearmament. In great measure, this depends on whether the hard edge in Xi's positions are postures linked to a domestic debate within the party and the PLA, or they are what they say they are: an announcement that the world better get used to Chinese power.


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