‘Mao Tse Tung, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping are dominant figures, but even their times have seen factionalism and rivalry within the party’
China’s internal situation remains its biggest concern 32 years after the Tiananmen Square protests, says former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, the author of the book “The Making of a protest: A diplomat looks back”.
In an interview with The Hindu, he says President Xi’s challenges are similar to the past, but circumstances are different. Excerpts:
Your book “Tiananmen Square” focuses on the growing unrest amongst students in 1989, but also focuses on the divisions within the Chinese Communist party that led to protests. Do those divisions still exist, under President Xi Jinping?
One of the myths is the sense among many in India that China and the CCP are a monolith, with one leader, one chain of command, and 1.4 billion people following that leader. Any study of the CCP would show the severe factionalism within the party at different points in history. Mao Tse Tung, Deng Xiaoping, and currently Xi Jinping are dominant figures, but even their times have seen factionalism and rivalry within the party. It is just that the Chinese system is closed, the media can’t cover these issues, and so we don’t get to see it.
Do you see any similarities between today and that period during the Tiananmen protests?
The one similarity is that both Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping share the same vision, that China must be led by the Communist Party, and that the authority and dominance of the party in political terms must not be allowed to be diluted. As a result of China’s growth, the West which looked upon China as a sort of cash cow in 1990, now sees China as a bit of a carnivore, waiting to devour them. Because the fact is that China is not only the world’s second-largest economy now, and in some ways, a true challenger to the west’s domination of technology, equipment, manufacturing, and so on. In 1990, China was much weaker, and therefore Deng Xiaoping spoke of keeping of lying low, and not raising your head, and waiting and watching and biding your time. Today, China’s economy is the second-largest in the world, it is the world’s largest foreign investor, it is the world’s second or third most powerful armed force, it has a huge diplomatic influence abroad. And therefore Mr. Xi’s policy is one where China is beginning to assert itself.
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