Lately, some retired Chinese generals want Xi to change course. They want him to stop the aggression on the borders with India, against Taiwan and other targets.
Splittism is a term used by President Xi Jinping. Most recently, he applied it to Tibet, pointing at its religious, political and cultural dissidence. His ire is directed at the glue of Buddhism there. He has vowed to turn Tibet into a Han fortress.
Of late, the off-balance “Red Emperor”, plagued by many devils, deals mostly in threats and insults. His “Might is Right” playbook is being roundly challenged everywhere and he has been reacting boorishly.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have not been able to stamp out the spirit of Tibetan freedom in all the time since it was overrun in 1950. This despite the Tibetans being more or less unarmed.
Perhaps the need for a fresh bout of repression has become urgent now because of unexpected Indian resistance. India now refuses to cede any more surreptitiously grabbed territory, and has demonstrated some intent to get back a lot of it lost to China since 1962. India has pointedly spearheaded its military tactics along with a Tibetan commando force made up from Tibetan exiles. A Tibetan government in exile also watches and waits in India along with the ousted Dalai Lama.
Recently a Buddhist monastery was demolished in Eastern Tibet. Earlier, Tibetan Prayer Flags were routinely pulled down. Monks have been roughed up and sometimes killed. Tibetans have been urged to be grateful for the benefits of development brought by China. They are expected to integrate with the Han majority.
Xi Jinping likes to trample on cultural, political and religious identity. And not just those of the Buddhists, Christians and Muslims located in China. He expects to break resistance this way. Recently he aimed some of his venom at India too. Shortly after India upgraded a road to the LAC to make it easier for Hindu pilgrims to visit Kailash Mansarovar and Kailash Parbat, China chose to site missiles and a military base at the foot of Mount Kailash. A place regarded by Hindus as the sacred abode of Lord Shiva.
Splittism is now plaguing a faltering China on every side. President Xi Jinping is fighting multiple challenges to his sway in the CCP. One powerful challenger in the heart of the CCP is Premier Li Keqiang. Increasing information flow has blown the lid off the power struggle. There have been a series of leaks to the media on different aspects of the ravaged Chinese economy, normally kept well hidden from the world. Li Keqiang has been raising concerns about the plight of millions of the Chinese poor, with suggestions, facts and figures. Bad debt laden Chinese banks are struggling to survive. Factories are closed. There are publicly acknowledged food shortages. Floods, pestilence, the recent pandemic from Wuhan, have all taken their toll.
The retired military brass have also weighed in. One of them, an Air Force retired Major General Qiao Liang, in his book called Unrestricted Warfare, first suggested the development of a deadly virus that is then exported to the world. President Xi seems to have implemented this idea, with disastrous consequences not only for the world, but China itself.
But lately, the retired generals, Liang and Dai Xu in particular, want Xi to change course. They want him to stop the aggression on the borders with India, against Taiwan and other targets. They feel China is stretching military resources too thin by opening so many fronts simultaneously. It is also unifying the opposition to China.
But a roll-back would mean loss of face for Xi Jinping. He seems unwilling to show weakness though he seems frustrated enough. But others, such as the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister seem highly stressed.
In counterpoint to all the splittism, Xi Jinping has ramped up his favourite weapon of an anti-corruption drive. This campaign, a favourite device, tends to wax and wane. It is a thinly veiled purging mechanism. It gets rid of Communist functionaries that are opposed to Xi in the name of action against corruption. Dozens have been removed from office, particularly in troubled Xinjiang. The other side of the coin has Xi Jinping and his family, along with others close to him, involved in massive accumulation of offshore wealth. As much as $4 trillion has allegedly found its way out of China and into secret accounts abroad.
On splittism there is no mercy. Christian churches are demolished and Bibles burnt. Inner Mongolians are told to forget their native tongue and learn Mandarin. Uyghurs in Xinjiang are put in detention camps for re-education. Mosques are razed and Qurans shredded. Beards are banned, along with Muslim worship. Han minders are sent to cohabit with Uyghur women while their men are being re-educated.
In Hong Kong, the protests are much more visible to the outside world. Xi Jinping sees them as unpatriotic and infected by British taught democratic aspirations. The crackdown there is equally brutal even as other countries pile up the economic boycotts and sanctions on China.
Military posturing to conquer Taiwan and occupy the South China Sea have brought the United States military into the arena. The East China Sea is being patrolled by Japan. Other navies and air forces—Australian, Indian, French, Russian, are watching the Indian Ocean, the Malacca Straits, the South China Sea, and everywhere else there is a Chinese presence.
SPLITTISM IN DEMOCRACIES
The spectre of splittism haunts all dictatorships of the Left and Right. However, it is the only perceived remedy to the extreme concentration of power. Apart, that is, from regime change. Stalin must have had his own one word Cossack moniker for the phenomenon. It has always brought on humungous purges and drawn torrents of blood. But it is a recurring suspicion, and doesn’t quite feel assuaged no matter how many, or how hard, it strikes.
It even finds prominence in democracies, in those pockets that are electorally captured by despotic political parties and ruled by a single person and his or her family. Sometimes this lack of inner party democracy leads to change, just as in a dictatorship.
In the beleaguered Indian state of West Bengal, for a half century under the lash of Communist and populist but parochial, chauvinist rule already, splittism has surfaced. It is not enough to call it anti-incumbency, because the ruling Trinamool Congress is now being ripped apart from within. This is very significant, given that it sends 42 members to Parliament, and West Bengal has a 294-member Assembly.
Political strategist Prashant Kishor and his firm Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), has found trouble brewing. The assessment was done between March and August 2020, even as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on. This year, Cyclone Amphan has also devastated Kolkata and parts of West Bengal.
I-PAC conducted three separate surveys, a month apart, across the 294-Assembly constituencies in the state. What was looking like 110 sure seats in TMC’s kitty in March, plummeted to 78 in August. In 2016, TMC won 211 seats.
The one past the half-way mark in the West Bengal Assembly is 148.
I-PAC and Prashant Kishor have made battle plans to remedy the situation before the elections scheduled of April-May 2021. But can it stem the rot?
Is this unhappiness in constituencies over the handling of Covid-19 and the cyclone? Or, has it come about gradually, only catalysed by recent events? Is it weariness over the corruption, anarchy, high-handedness, lawlessness? The TMC cannot tolerate criticism from anyone in the Party, or indeed within the state. The Centre is demonised, defied and projected as the predatory “outsider”. A sense of localised victimhood is encouraged. Once more, the prospect of the fall, if it comes, will be engineered as much from within the TMC, as without, by the opposition BJP.
There are other spectacles of splittism. One playing out is at the heart of the Congress Party.
Splittism is almost always brought on by a slippage in the power equation. That it should happen in an absence of political power is almost inevitable. But while a government is still in the saddle, splittism owes its onset to growing deficits and contradictions that cannot be quelled by sheer repression. An inner coterie can no longer control the tides of dissent. Sometimes it is a consequence of biting off more than one can chew. But this is seen only by others. It all takes some time to play out. But splittism invariably portends the beginning of the end.