This is an extract from a piece of mine that appeared in The Indian Express on 25 November 2011:
“When the Olympics were held in this country’s capital city, great care was taken to put on a show to impress foreign visitors. Dissidents were picked up and taken away from the city. Unwanted and protesting ethnic minorities were kept under surveillance. All citizens were instructed to keep smiling to convey the message that happiness prevailed in the host country. Magnificent stadiums were built. The might and power of the state apparatus was there for all to see and to get impressed with. The Olympics themselves were conducted with a precision and an attention to spectacle that was nothing if not awe-inspiring. Truly the hour of the collective man seemed to have arrived.
The above paragraph was certainly true of Beijing in 2008. Ironically and eerily so, it was true of Berlin in 1936”
The reason I am quoting myself is not to claim the gift of prophecy or extraordinary prescience going back nine years, but to establish the fact that the emergence of the People’s Republic of China as a Nazi Germany lookalike has been many years in the making. Hitler would not have happened had there not been a foundation of totalitarian longings and crass anti-Semitism already lodged in the German body politic. So too with China and Xi.
Historical parallels with Germany
StratNews Global recently ran a feature that compared Chinese President Xi Jinping with Adolf Hitler. The channel’s editor, Nitin Gokhale promptly got an ominous call from a Chinese embassy spokesperson who warned of “consequences” if the feature was not taken down. Gokhale is an intrepid defender of free speech and is committed to India’s robust traditions of fearless journalism. I am sure he can handle the “consequences”, such as they may turn out to be. Gokhale has hinted that the subsequent edition might include a section on concentration camps. Dachau was an early camp. It was not in Poland, but inside Germany and predated September 1939. Forcing Uighurs to eat pork, to read Mao and not their holy book, to discard the veil, to drop their language and speak in Mandarin, to not pray and to learn “peaceful and useful skills” would suggest that Uighurs can be changed. The next stage may be to conclude that Uighurs are incorrigibly unchangeable. In which case, there may be “consequences”— a word that seems to be favoured by Chinese officials. And the world cannot claim to be ignorant of the consequences of ignoring Dachau and the “solution” that was offered by the successors of Dachau.
A case can be made that the historical parallels are not just the ones concerning the resemblance of Xi’s China to Hitler’s Germany. The parallels are also about responses from the rest of the world, including of course the West, and the way these responses are being read by the mandarins in Beijing. No one broke off diplomatic relations with Germany when Dachau was set up. Did the hapless Uighurs actually expect any action from the world’s human rights lovers? Someone in Beijing has read up on the supine stance of flabby democracies as articulated by German ideologues of the 1930s.
China is in a hurry, so was Germany
The parallel of ‘being in a hurry’ is also worth thinking about. Hitler apparently felt that if he did not move fast, the allies would become too powerful. Perhaps Chinese strategists feel the need to move fast before their population goes into decline or before China misses the opportunity presented by the current Western disarray and confusion.
In 1937, Japan already controlled Manchuria, Korea, Shandong and most of Shanghai. There was no need to cross the Marco Polo Bridge and attack China. But the Japanese militarists were in a hurry. Now that the Chinese have swallowed Hong Kong and imprisoned the Uighurs, with minimal international repercussions, why not wait a year or two to put other apples into the basket? There just has to be a group of thinkers in Beijing who believe that precipitate hurry is justified and that alienating public opinion in the Anglo-Sphere (in Europe, not just the compromised governments, even the general public is eerily and ominously quiet) is a risk worth taking.
For America, Russia is still the significant adversary
Popular opinion in Britain, the US and Australia may be turning anti-Chinese. But the preferred approach in scholarly and influential American circles today, is to consider Russia as the more significant adversary, virtually giving China a get-out-of-jail-free card. This constitutes another historical parallel. The Tory elite in Britain viewed the Soviet Union as a greater evil than Nazi Germany. The West literally forced Stalin into Hitler’s arms, in a way that is amazingly similar to the manner in which Putin’s Russia has been left with no option but to cosy up with China. This visceral dislike of Russia, which ends up in a reckless indulgence of the more powerful and aggressive China, constitutes a repeat motif in Western elite circles.
After giving the Poles a solemn guarantee and encouraging their stubborn intransigence, what did Britain and France do when Germany invaded Poland? Not a single French or British paratrooper was dropped into Poland. The Royal Navy did not make the feeblest of attempts to get to Danzig. The brave Poles were abandoned to the nasty Germans. But when Russia invaded Finland, all of a sudden, British soldiers and the Royal Air Force (RAF) planes, which were apparently desperately needed elsewhere, were shipped off to help the brave Finns fight the nastier Russians. People of my generation who were Biggles fans may remember that the dashing RAF ace Biggles went to help the Finns.
Ironically, it is the American working class (what’s left of it) who Hillary Clinton had referred to as “deplorables” who seem to be anti-Chinese. Left to themselves, the bicoastal elites may be willing to do a deal. The ‘august’ journal Foreign Affairs continues to harp on the dangers from Russia and the so-called need to ‘engage’ with China. One wonders if the new-fangled word ‘engage’ rhymes mysteriously with the older word ‘appease’. The parallel where the British working class supported Winston Churchill while his own party elders were OK with making a deal with the Germans is quite striking.
Parallels are not without merit
Sections of the Indian elite may also be willing to make arguments that it is either not desirable or not practical to irritate China. It is worth remembering Rudyard Kipling’s admonition, that once a people starts paying Dane-geld (a tribute to invaders to persuade them not to invade and loot), then there is no end to the next round of bitter juices that will be proffered to and forced down the throats of the peace-loving losers.
History may not repeat itself, but parallels are not without merit. When the chips are down, despite all the gobbledygook talk of Western leaders, India is going to be quite alone. Good wishes, even guarantees, and symbolic imitation Biggles will be of no help. Think Poland. And yet, there is another parallel that the Chinese commissars may want to think about. Poland succumbed. The Soviet Union did not succumb, and when Heinz Guderian was close to Moscow, the Soviets counter-attacked. A lonely India may just end up having the backbone to do something similar. As Portia would say, “Tarry a minute, Marco Polo. For there may be consequences.” In a recent column, Anantha Nageswaran has actually called upon India to take the lead in firm assertion against the totalitarian behemoth of today. More power to columnists like him.
The author is an entrepreneur and writer. Views are personal.