The amendments to the Chinese Constitution at the ongoing National People’s Congress removing the formal two-term limit to Presidential appointments mark a welcome step in shedding the façade of ineffectual artificial modern liberal democracy and strive towards a true vision of society and internationalism governed by the principles rooted in communal harmony. This is happening at a time when the Western democracy has, since a long time, thoroughly degenerated into a carefully managed puppet of big capital, punctuated by periodic elections every few years which give the people the illusion of the exercise of political power. In reality, democracy had become nothing but a numeric exercise in a utilitarian system, while the real power rests in the hands of those with money. The election of Trump in USA, the popularity of Putin in Russia, the resurgence of BJP across India, the resurgence of French people led by a President who has taken the entrenched lethargic socialist interests head-on, and, now the overwhelming support for bringing back the ‘President for life’ system in China, show that the people world-over are revolting against the carefully managed façade of Western liberal democracy.
The Chinese have been accustomed to the idea of ‘President for life’, first, in the form of monarchical rule and then during the years of Mao Zedong. It was only after 1976 that Mao’s liberal successor, Deng Xiaoping, to usher in the capitalist economy in China, along with several other changes, did away with the ‘President for life’ policy and instead introduced formal two-term limit to the re-election of the President. But because the Communist Party of China (CPC), along with the Central Military Commission (CMC), continued to reign supremely over the Chinese polity and foreign and defence affairs, the institution of the two-term limit did not mean much. The removal of the two-term Presidential election limit is just a formal change, as Xi was already the leader of the CPC and the CMC – the two most powerful institutions in Chinese polity – and they, in any case, have no term limits. So, Xi would have continued to hold sway well into the future, with or without this small formal change. But with the removal of the term-limit, the emergence of an unnecessary parallel power centre is precluded and the smooth functioning of domestic and foreign affairs can take place.
For the apologists of the two-term limit, such a limit could, at best, inspire competitive politics within the CPC for higher positions – but this intra-party politics is hardly ‘democratic’ politics. Quite to the contrary, in fact. Intra-party competition within CPC – when there were no political parties in the public arena and no open elections – gave rise to a corrupt system based on politics of patronage, where individual members and those belonging to powerful and wealthy families would take advantage by lobbying those at the top or would themselves harbor ambitions to rule the country.
All the while, this unhealthy competition remained confined within the CPC, thereby giving rise to a privileged corrupt class of Chinese ‘princelings’ against whom even the public started revolting several years ago. How such a system could be called ‘democratic’ in even the remotest sense of the word is baffling, to put it mildly – one wonders why, then, critics are decrying the passing of such a system, which was ushered in when Xi Jinping assumed power. With Xi’s ascendance to power, one of his most conspicuous first actions was, precisely, to root out this entrenched corruption from the system. Obviously, the international media – with Indian media parroting their international counterparts – liked to term this as suppression of ‘political dissent’ and suppression of anyone who could pose a threat to Xi. But these remain mere speculations in an age where ‘dissent’ itself has become a manufactured and sponsored process – like how the West commonly funds ‘democratic dissent’ in various parts of the world to overthrow a recalcitrant regime or the ubiquitous lobbying which has become an indispensable part of the political scene in Washington DC.
In the Chinese case of the rise of Xi, the suppression of dissent theory does not hold because his measures, his re-election and the imprinting of his thought on socialism have had widespread support in the party and the government as well as in the public. The only few dissenting voices are, reportedly, limited to Western-educated or Western-backed Chinese living in the USA – their numbers as well as their location rendering their voices largely irrelevant.
The democracy they seem to be trying to bring into China – at a time when the West is failing – has never ever existed in the one-party system of China, as economic capitalism never gave way to political capitalism and that was a saving grace for Chinese culture and society and allowed it to ascend to the level of the global political and economic superpower that it has now become. The tightly-knit political system, especially under Xi, has become an instrument for the revival of traditional Chinese values and a threat to the onslaught of Christianity, which had gained substantial foothold in China. Xi and his youth leadership put restrictions on celebrations of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, April Fool’s Day and Halloween, last year.
Much like the crusade against the corrupt elite of China, it was, again, under Xi’s leadership that the voices of the Confucian scholars began to be heard seriously by the government. For more than a decade, they had been lamenting the ‘western cultural invasion’ of China, but it was only under Xi that the government displayed the gumption to officially adopt the policy of recognizing this cultural invasion and fight it by a policy of national cultural revival, aligned with the principles of Xi’s ideas of socialism. The effort to ‘sinicise’ alien cultures and political doctrines (like capitalism and socialism) has seen a marked revival under Xi, who is known to be a staunch nationalist. In fact, only last month, China succeeded in instituting a policy in which the Chinese government, and not the Pope, became the final authority in the appointment of Bishops in churches – a first anywhere.
This staunch nationalism, under which Xi is uniting the CPC, the CMC and the entire nation, is one of the reasons for the rise of China and the public popularity of Xi. As for the questions of democracy and socialism, it must be emphasized that the present spirit of Chinese socialism (and not Communism) is not at all the regimented, heartless and selfish economic socialism of the West. The effort in Asia has always been towards a true spirit of socialism, grounded in spiritual harmony – China, under Xi, is consciously trying to move towards that.
To quote from Sri Aurobindo here, “Socialism is not an European idea, it is essentially Asiatic and especially Indian. What is called Socialism in Europe, is the old Asiatic attempt to effect a permanent solution of the economic problem of society which will give man leisure and peace to develop undisturbed his higher self. Without Socialism democracy would remain a tendency that never reached its fulfilment, a rule of the masses by a small aristocratic or monied class with the consent and votes of the masses, or a tyranny of the artisan classes over the rest. Socialistic democracy is the only true democracy, for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development. To realise those conditions is also the aim of Hindu civilization… The fulfilment of Hinduism is the fulfilment of the highest tendencies of human civilization and it must include in its sweep the most vital impulses of modern life. It will include democracy and Socialism also, purifying them, raising them above the excessive stress on the economic adjustments which are the means, and teaching them to fix their eyes more constantly and clearly on the moral, intellectual and spiritual perfection of mankind which is the end.” (CWSA 7, 648-85).
That this Asiatic idea of polity could ever degenerate into dictatorship is invalid. Only regimented systems, arising out of the material-vital spirit to cater to the selfish interests of a utilitarian and commercialized society (be it communism or capitalism or socialism), can so degenerate into dictatorships. Dictatorships are a very common modern phenomenon. To suppose that materialistic, culture-less and unregenerate democratic tendencies can get rid of dictatorships is a folly. Examples abound. For instance, almost all anti-colonial nationalist movements, spanning Asia, Africa and Middle-east, were born out of a discourse of ‘rights’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘equality’ – India’s Nehru was a leader and product of that age. Yet, except for India, almost all these so-called democratic struggles – including the later ones like the creation of Bangladesh – ended in abject and irrevocable dictatorships. Witness that no country on the Indian sub-continent is a democracy except India herself.
So, on what historical or psychological basis can it possibly be said that Xi’s transition to power would lead to a personality-cult type of dictatorship? We know nothing about democracy, except as a system where majoritarian and populist tendencies rule the roost and there is always conflict between narrow competing interests, and that is where it stops – there is never any further talk of enlightenment or true psychological progress or true internationalism. The more the competition and strife and demands – no matter what its nature or how degenerate it is – the better the prospects for democracy.
When a country tries to practice a wider and more magnanimous approach – like China – it is ostracized. How can a flailing western system preach to us democracy at this stage? Ancient Indian system – a culture so revered by the Chinese also – abounds with examples of an ideal polity. By making the rule of Dharma – as sanctioned by the rishis of the age or by the Shastra or some spiritual authority – the ancient polity ensured that the ruler (in what is today called ‘monarchy’) was always subject to the will of the people, who lived in a communal and organic harmony in the society.
The ancient system vested political power in spiritual authority – when the centers of power were non-materialistic and non-temporal, so how can there be misuse? In such a system, the modern notions of democracy cannot apply. The question of democracy – as a forceful assertion and charter of demands and perpetual struggle for power – does not even arise in the case of a system which was motivated and worked by consciousness.
The crippled notions of modern democracy cannot, therefore, be applied to Xi’s new transition to power. And, by all external, practical and ethical yardsticks, it makes perfect sense. The Modi government, here, seems to be supporting the new development, with both India and China making favourable statements for each other and two key Union ministers from India flying to China to discuss bilateral relations. But these overtures will be of little use, unless India fully grasps the historicity and future potential of India-China relationship.
India and the new status of Xi Jinping
From the point of view of India, contrary to what our ill-informed media would like to analyze, this is an extremely favourable situation. This is so not only because of the mere practical fact of political stability that Xi’s leadership will bring in the years to come, but also because the renewed focus of the Chinese on cultural revival makes it look towards India as its natural ally in the new transformation that is taking place the world-over and in which Asiatic resurgence, led by the restoration of Asia’s ancient cultural glory, is the vision that dominates China’s internal apolitical circles.
This puts in perspective the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi’s, recent comment that “The Chinese dragon and Indian elephant must not fight each other but dance with each other. If China and India are united, one plus one is not equal to two but eleven. Despite some tests and difficulties, the China-India relationship continues to grow.” This was further confirmed by Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson, Lu Kang’s statement that Wang Yi’s comments represented China’s ‘basic position’ on its relationship with India. It is unfortunate that only the government of India welcomed China’s comments, while the majority of the public ‘analysts’ either dismissed them or treated them with suspicion, as usual.
For how long can India – allowing narrow-minded views to prevail – continue to harbor a selfish, Western-inspired foreign policy of ‘balance of powers’ by striking utilitarian relationships with nations to balance out competing interests and contain rivals? It is commendable that China is not even reacting to India’s plans to ‘contain’ it in the Indian Ocean by allying with Japan, USA and Australia, or, trying to forge a BRI-replica through the Asia-Africa Economic Corridor or the trade route with Iran and Afghanistan – all being done, like Doklam, to ostensibly put China in its place. Despite these irritants spawned by Indian foreign policy, China, on its part, is not leaving any stone unturned to accommodate India. From offering to rename the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to agreeing to grey-list Pakistan in the terror-funding list, China is trying its level best to accommodate India while ensuring that its business interests in Pakistan are not disturbed.
India has not yet fully grasped the positive role China’s intervention in Pakistan will play in the future. China’s foreign economic policy mainly entails making poorer nations indebted to itself without being a brutal creditor like the World Bank or the IMF – this enables China to control these countries as well as achieve its purposes of positive cultural indoctrination in them. Pakistan is nothing more than one such country. What China did in Sri Lanka and Africa, it is doing in Pakistan. Recent reports claim that China has been secretly holding talks with the Baloch separatists without involving Pakistan in order to protect its business interests in the region – this shows how much of an ‘equal’ ally Pakistan really is. Leaked documents of CPEC also show that China has been interested in controlling the Pakistani media and other cultural centres and conduct surveillance in Pakistani cities – obviously, de-radicalizing Pakistan would serve to counter the Muslim separatist threat faced by China in its Xinjiang province.
Despite China treating Pakistan as nothing more than a convenient strategic ground, India cannot seem to grasp this. It continues to want China to treat Pakistan and India equally – what a travesty of equality that would be! Despite India’s insistence, the fact that China treats India with utmost respect and as its own equal in power and cultural history, has been India’s luck for decades. But India wants to be treated like Pakistan – a classic instance of how foreign policy fails, even as wise men think they are being very smart.
The reason China holds India in high regard, despite constant political tensions between the two countries, is mainly because of India’s status as a cultural powerhouse and its ancient lineage – the same reason why countries in the West are dismissed or treated platonically as no more than business partners by China. This is set to accelerate under Xi’s leadership. If Xi remains around for a long time and if India-China relations get back to their true spirit, the vision of Asiatic resurgence may not seem that distant a dream.
CWSA 6 & 7. 2002. Bande Mataram. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department.