Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin passes away. President Xi Jinping tells EU President Charles Michael the students are protesting because of Covid restrictions. Pentagon report says China-India standoff is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. China expresses concern about the India-US military exercise in Uttarakhand. New Delhi tells Beijing the exercise doesn’t violate agreements. Chinascope reflects on Jiang Zemin’s legacy and digs deep into another newsworthy week from China.
China over the week
If we have to point out the figure who helped China into the 21st Century by teaming with techno-modernity, we can safely name Jiang Zemin.
Jiang died on Wednesday because of leukaemia and multiple organ failures – he was 96 years old – according to Xinhua News Agency. He held the official title of General Secretary from 1989 to 2002 and was chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1987 to 2004. Jiang had managed to amass such political influence that he continued to install allies and protégés at prominent positions after Hu Jintao became the General Secretary and was seen as the head of the “Shanghai clique”.
To mourn Jiang Zemin’s passing, the Chinese state media, search engines and some commercial portals turned their websites into a monotone scheme. So did platforms like Bilibili, Pinduoduo and Alibaba’s Taobao.
The Chinese social media trends captured Jiang’s life and achievements. The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin passed away in Shanghai at 96” was viewed 3.8 billion times on Weibo.
Jiang loved to interact with foreign journalists, a stark contrast to President Xi.
“He seemed to enjoy such interactions and generally performed well, often with flair. His flamboyant personality sometimes surprised his hosts. During foreign trips, he would occasionally burst into singing, play musical instruments, or recite famous poems and speeches,” Zhiqun Zhu wrote in The Diplomat, assessing Jiang’s legacy.
Jiang has a significant following among the Chinese youth who call themselves “toad worshippers” based on his frog-like demeanour and fuddy-duddy charisma. He was lovingly called “Grandpa Jiang” by social media users when China Central Television (CCTV) announced his death on 30 November.
“Jiang Zemin is recognized by the whole Party, the whole army and the people of all nationalities as an outstanding leader with high prestige, a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionist, statesman, military strategist, diplomat, and a long-tested communist fighter. An outstanding leader of the great cause of socialism with characteristics, the core of the party’s third-generation central leadership collective, and the main founder of the important thought of ‘Three Represents’,” said the official obituary.
Rumours about Jiang’s death began circulating at the time of the 20th Party Congress on 16 October, when people pointed out his absence from the proceedings.
In the past, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has delayed announcing the death of influential leaders, such as Deng Xiaoping. Announcing the death of leaders has been a tricky affair as people have poured on the streets during the passing of former Premier Zhou Enlai and former General Secretary Hu Yaobang. Zhou’s death led to people protesting the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four, and the death of Hu, perceived as a ‘liberal leader’ who was forced to resign in 1987 by the Conservative hard-liners, led to a mass protest and eventually the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Though people were allowed to pay respect to Jiang following his death, there was strict control on the gathering of people as police presence had already been increased after the recent anti-zero-Covid policy protests.
Jiang’s death poses another concern for Xi Jinping. Jiang’s period as the General Secretary was marked by the dramatic transformation of Chinese society and economy. There is a nostalgia for Jiang’s period when China’s rapid economic growth fueled widespread prosperity across sections of the society. Xi’s era is marked with tumult and change in Chinese society.
“How Mr Xi orchestrates that feat — paying tribute to Mr Jiang while preventing him from becoming a symbolic cudgel against Mr Xi’s politics — will be another challenge for him in the coming weeks, as China tries to manage rising coronavirus cases and an economic slowdown,” wrote veteran China correspondent Chris Buckley in The New York Times.
Jiang’s primary contribution to the CCP ideology was the ‘Three Represents’ (or ‘sān ge dàibiǎo’), widely acknowledged as the basis for spurring the Chinese growth model through the 1990s.
“The important thought of ‘Three Represents’ founded by Jiang Zemin is the inheritance and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping Theory. It is the crystallization of the collective wisdom of the CCP, the guiding ideology that the party must adhere to for a long time, and the precious spiritual wealth of the party and the people,” added the official obituary of Jiang Zemin.
The ‘Three Represents’ wanted to allow capitalist entrepreneurs to join the Communist Party, which ensured the new rising economic elite remained under the control of the Party.
“Ideologically, the essence of this term is to redefine the Party as an ever-innovating organization corresponding to China’s socioeconomic and cultural development and allowing private enterprises to join the Party,” wrote Xiaoyuan Liu in an edited volume titled China after Jiang.
Jiang proposed ideas such as a ‘socialist market economy’, which would firmly place the CCP at the helm of new economic innovation rather than private enterprises.
India’s embassy in Beijing sends its official condolences over Jiang’s passing in a post on Weibo.
During the past week, Chinese officials did not shy away from acknowledging the recent protests across major urban centres in China, even though news about them have already started to disappear from the front pages of most international media outlets.
During the meeting with European Union President Charles Michel, Xi Jinping acknowledged that recent protests, by ‘mainly students’, in China were the result of growing frustration among the people with the Covid restrictions, reported South China Morning Post, citing EU officials.
According to Financial Times, Xi is personally steering a policy shift to loosening the Covid restrictions. But it’s also true that Beijing’s stringent zero-Covid policy achieved little.
“While authorities were busy conducting mass tests and building quarantine centers, China’s vaccine drive also stalled. Fewer than 60% of Chinese have had a booster shot, government data shows, including 40% of those age 80 and older,” reported The Wall Street Journal, citing government data.
China in world news
For many China watchers, the publication of the annual US Department of Defence report on Military and Security Developments related to the People’s Republic of China has become a much-awaited event. The annual Pentagon report has become the measure of China’s military activities in the Indo-Pacific and worldwide.
“Throughout the standoff, PRC officials sought to downplay the severity of the crisis, emphasizing Beijing’s intent to preserve border stability and prevent the standoff from harming other areas of its bilateral relationship with India. The PRC seeks to prevent border tensions from causing India to partner more closely with the United States. PRC officials have warned US officials not to interfere with the PRC’s relationship with India,” Pentagon’s report said.
China recently expressed concerns over the India-US joint military exercise called Yudh Abhyas in Auli, Uttarakhand.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the exercise “violated the spirit of relevant agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996, and does not help build bilateral trust. China has expressed concerns to the Indian side over the military exercise”.
The Pentagon report added that the negotiations to resolve the India-China border standoff had made ‘minimal progress’ as both sides want to “resist losing their perceived advantages at the border”.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported the expansion of a military facility on Pangong Tso, which now appears to be new division-level headquarters or garrison.
The construction of the military facility was ramped up in 2021, according to the open-source satellite imagery reviewed by the author.
Last week, Chinascope told you about the Narendra Modi government’s plan to build a strategic road network in Arunachal Pradesh.
The infrastructure projects, which both India and China are currently racing to finish, will likely keep the mutual tensions in a heightened state of alert in 2023.
Must read this week
The Politics of Passing On – David Bandurski
The Overseas Chinese Students Trapped Between Two Pandemic Realities – Christine Schindler
The Problem With Zero: How Xi’s Pandemic Policy Created a Crisis for the Regime – Yuen Yuen Ang
China Has India Trapped on Their Disputed Border – Sushant Singh
The protests in China have brought about cracks in Xi’s façade of ‘man-in-control’. Sophia Yan, the Beijing correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, spoke to Lawfare editor-in-chief Benjamin Wittes about China’s response to Covid and what led to the people coming out on streets to protest the restrictions. Chinascope recommends listening to the conversation.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)