Modern age revisionist China appears on course to pursue what it covets, and knit Zhonggou (the Middle Kingdom) geographically, strategically, and politically. Present day Asian political geography contains noteworthy dichotomies that remain hard to ignore. This includes China’s brazen on-going attempts at redrawing frontiers and failure to adhere to the existential status quo. Manipulation of historical consciousness has long dominated the political discourse and foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China. The Communist Party has perennially employed selective versions of history to glorify the Party, re-establish its legitimacy, and consolidate national identity time and again. Although post the military standoff at Doklam, President Xi said that China was prepared to work with India for peaceful coexistence and called for efforts to put Sino-Indian ties on the “right track” during talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his pomposity and rhetoric on domestic ground sings a different tune altogether.
Soon after assuming his second term, Xi has begun spinning the narrative on Tibet yet again by urging Tibetans living in settlement areas bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to “set down roots” in these areas and help “safeguard Chinese territory”. The state-run and controlled Chinese media is proving instrumental in spinning this narrative by highlighting a “letter” apparently written by Xi Jinping to a family of traditional herdsmen living in the Yumai Township of southeastern Tibet’s Lhünzê County.
The dawn of Xi Jinping’s era in China has resulted in the demise of China’s three decades old collective leadership system.
Xi’s current political standing pronounces him as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The Chinese leadership and Xi Jinping particularly, appear keen on portraying that a strong military is critical in advancing Chinese interests, thereby highlighting the vitality of the Chinese PLA in achieving great power status and Xi’s “China Dream” of national rejuvenation. Mao argued of “keeping the enemy in the dark about where and when [Chinese] forces will attack” and remained in favour of launching a “just war” if it contributed to the end of ensuring pre-dominance of the Party and injecting national morale. Xi could well be taking a page from this thought now that the Party is becoming synonymous with a “one-man” rule. The dawn of Xi Jinping’s era in China has resulted in the demise of China’s three decades old collective leadership system, and instead, paved way for absolute centralisation of despotic power and control in the hands of Xi.
China’s revisionist approach selectively interprets colonial-era decisions and accepts colonial-era accords/treaties when it suits its geopolitical and geostrategic agenda while choosing to scrap and dishonour them in other references. Revisionism, seemingly, has been injected profoundly in the Chinese foreign policy discourse and all elements of state power have been readied to extend its value systems. The People’s Republic of China is not just the most influential player in Asia at large, but fast emerging as great power China, which refuses to accept the extant security order. And it is the degree, to which China acts in a revisionist fashion that will significantly shape, if not determine, Asia’s future.
Dr Monika Chansoria is a Tokyo-based Senior Visiting Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).