Friday, October 02, 2009

China stands at Crossroads at 60

This week China is celebrating 60th anniversary of the Communist Party's rise to power. The accompanying military parade showcased its power with 52 items of weapon systems and with 2,00,000 troops marching down Tiananmen square.In these 60 years it has risen from being an impoverished, backward state in 1949, to a nation which commands respect and awe in the world.

In terms of post-World War II military growth, unlike its Asian peers Japan and India, China first concentrated on acquiring military muscle. By the time Deng Xiaoping launched his economic-modernization program, China already had tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, the 7,460-mile DF-5, and developed thermonuclear weaponry. Then in last 30 years its economy has expanded thirteen fold. Its rapidly swelling foreign-exchange coffers and its state-owned corporate are frenetically buying foreign firms, technologies and resources.  .

In spite of it being fastest growing economy and has the largest standing army, China's future remains more uncertain than ever. It is plagued by poverty, charges of human rights violations and environmental degradations.

Recent social unrest among farmers and workers have been broader in scope, larger in average size, greater in frequency, and more brash than those of a decade ago. Protests are growing in average size from 10 or fewer people in the mid-1990s to about 52 people per incident in 2004. In the first half of 2005, there were over 340 protests involving more than 10,000 people.

China's political system is rife with contradictions. It's an authoritarian one-party state, which boasts that it holds democratic elections at grassroots level. Its cities seem to be an exercise in rampant capitalism, yet its leaders are Communist. It is the oldest autocracy in the world. The longest any autocratic system survived in modern history was 74 years in the Soviet Union. A recent BBC survey showed that top on the minds of the Chinese citizens is a thirst for democracy. Amartya Sen had once famously observed major famines do not occur in democracies. He cited the example of India where famines such as the one in 1943 in British India disappeared with the establishment of democracy. In contrast, China had the largest famine in recorded history during 1958-61, when nearly 30 million people died

While India celebrates diversity, China honors artificially enforced monoculturalism, although it officially comprises 56 nationalities. China seeks not only to play down its ethnic diversity, but also to conceal the cultural and linguistic cleavages among the Han majority, lest the historical north-south fault lines resurface with a vengeance. The Han - split in at least seven linguistically and culturally distinct groups - are anything but homogenous. The greatest genocide in modern world history was not the Holocaust but the Great Leap Forward, a misguided charge toward industrialization that left 36 million people dead, according to "Tombstone," a recent book by longtime Chinese communist Yang Jisheng.

China's internal problems - best symbolized by the 2008 Tibetan uprising and this year's Uighur revolt.

In last 60 years, its relationship with its neighbors has seen several upheavals. It employed brute force to annex Xinjiang (1949) and Tibet (1950), to raid South Korea (1950), to invade India (1962), to initiate a border conflict with the Soviet Union through a military ambush (1969), and to attack Vietnam (1979).

Whether china survives next 40 years will depend on how manages to resolve the stark contradictions and avoid a political hardlanding.

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