His Excellency Luo Zhaohui, China’s Ambassador to India, recently published an article in the Indian media. In it, he sought to explain the outcomes of the nineteenth Congress of the Communist Party of China and to reassure Indian concerns that a rising China posed a potential threat to India. Mr Luo was at pains to point out that China was poised to enter a new era of growth and prosperity, predicated on the policies of General Secretary and President Xi Jinping. The ensuing prosperity, Mr Luo pointed out, would not be confined to China or its people but spread among those countries that participated in Mr Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” project and globally.
Mr Luo was also at pains to point out that India’s ‘concerns and misgivings’ in regard to China’s rise are ‘misplaced’. While this could possibly be the case, India’s misgivings are fully understandable.
Mr Luo began his article with an explanation of Mr Xi’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. This thought, which has been enshrined in the Communist Party’s Constitution, elevates Mr Xi to the status enjoyed by Mao Zedong. While Deng Xiao Ping’s ideas were also written into the Constitution, that occurred after Deng’s passing. It would be difficult, therefore, to overstate the import of Mr Xi’s “Thought”.
It is that very importance, however, that causes other countries concern, for Mr Xi explicitly spoke during his three-and-a-half hour speech of bringing about the “China Dream”, his plan to restore China to its former glory. The fact that Beijing previously dismissed the ruling of an international tribunal in a case brought against it by Manila, the fact that Mr Xi referred to China’s artificial island-building in the South China Sea in positive terms and his vow to continue to build more such islands displayed a cavalier lack of concern for the existing rules-based system and showed China to be anything but a status quo power. Regional states, and countries further afield, therefore, have every reason to be concerned.
Mr Luo is correct in pointing out that one of China’s shorter-term objectives is to ‘accomplish the task of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020 when the Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary anniversary.’ That can only be seen as commendable; for all its progress, there still exists a degree of domestic financial hardship in China. What Mr Luo does not touch upon, however, is Mr Xi’s determination, as he stated in the course of his speech, to make China a superpower by 2035 and to forge a military to match that power.
Mr Luo’s statement, similarly, that another of China’s goals ‘is to forge a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win co-operation’ is admirable on the surface but provides scant detail as to what “a new form of international relations” may portend. As for mutual respect, there is precious little of that to be observed in China’s out-of-hand dismissal of the ruling on the South China Sea brought down at The Hague or even in its management of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which led a reputable Pakistani newspaper to voice its concerns about China’s objectives in that country. Based on that report, there appears to be very little of the “mutual respect” to which Mr Luo refers.
It could be argued that Mr Luo referred specifically to India in his article and that Pakistan is a rather different case. Even assuming that argument to be a valid one does not explain why China has seemingly gone out of its way to counter India’s objectives at every turn. Beijing prevented New Delhi from becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers group, blocked India’s attempts to list Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad chief and the alleged mastermind behind the Pathankot terror attack, Masood Azhar, as a terrorist at the United Nations and, in routing its energy pipelines through territory in Kashmir that is disputed by India and Pakistan, showed scant regard or respect for New Delhi’s concerns and ignored India’s calls for the pipelines to be re-routed. Contrast that thinking with Beijing’s reaction to the visit by the Indian Defence Minister to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as part of Tibet. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson lost no time in denouncing the visit, claiming that ‘This visit by the Indian side to the disputed area is not conducive to the peace and tranquillity of the relevant region’.
Each of Mr Luo’s points could be demonstrated to be disingenuous. India has every right to be concerned about China’s foreign policy objectives.