‘Rude China’ is driven by sense of power
While speaking at a garden party at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth said that certain Chinese officials had been ‘very rude’ during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s State visit to the UK in October 2015; it was supposed to herald a ‘Golden Era’ in the bilateral relations.
When introduced to the Queen, Lucy D’Orsi, a senior police officer responsible for the security during Xi’s visit, described her dealings with the Chinese officials as ‘quite a testing time’, the 90-year old Queen retorted: “They were very rude to the Ambassador.”
The video of the monarch, who never makes political comments, went instantaneously viral. Though termed as a ‘gaffe’ by the media, the clip was made public by the Palace. The Queen spoke a truth that not many heads of state can afford to utter; in fact the Chinese always get away with it.
Why are the Chinese so rude? Simply because Beijing believes that China is the greatest world power with the United States…and that there is no harm in showing it. As China’s economic clout vanishes, one of the most serious problems that Xi will be facing in the years to come is to show that the Middle Kingdom is a ‘normal’, not a rude, nation.
Beijing today speaks of the ‘new normal’ to describe the fact that the Chinese economic machine runs slower than earlier; however, as far as Beijing’s behaviour is concerned, it may take decades for China to be ‘normal’.
What is happening in the South China Sea will convince even hard-core sinophiles. In its recently-published annual report to the US Congress, the US Defence Department described how China, with its rapid military growth, is using ‘coercive tactics’ to foster regional tensions. Can China become normal? In modern times, it is one of the most fascinating evolving political scenarios to watch.
The leadership in Beijing is clearly aware of the dichotomy: The impossibility to become a ‘normal’ state and simultaneously continue to bully the rest of the planet, excepting a few nations (mainly the US and in a few cases, India).
After the Buckingham incident, The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said it would be ‘truly boorish and rude’ if the British officials had intentionally leaked the video; it added that the Western media is “full of reckless ‘gossip fiends’ who bare their fangs and brandish their claws and are very narcissistic, retaining the bad manners of barbarians.”
With its declining economical power, what is the way forward for China to command ‘respect’? One way is to reform the military and make Beijing truly a bully.
The last war fought by China (against Vietnam in 1979) showed the weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army; since then the situation has further deteriorated with corruption creeping in: During the last two years, more than 50 officers of the rank of Major General and above have been purged. Xi, who cumulates all the positions in the party, the state and the PLA, knows that if China wants to be taken seriously (and the rudeness ignored), it needs to be strong, very strong. It is not the case today.
On May 12, the Central Military Commission released a 13th five-year military development plan (2016-2020). Xinhua said that China’s aims were to complete military reforms and have Armed Forces capable of informationised warfare by 2020. It asserted that in the next five years, the PLA will realise a significant increase of key combat capabilities. All the resources will be directed to projects that “enhance combat readiness, facilitate major reforms and improve benefits for servicemen and women,” says the paper.
The Chinese President often speaks of the Chinese dream: “A dream for harmony. Unfair and unreasonable old international order which has not been fundamentally changed is the most important cause of world chaos and dilemma.”
Though according to Xi, the new world order will be based on peaceful settlements of global disputes, the Middle Kingdom will be at the center of these new arrangements. It is worrying for India, because China remains and will remain a hegemonic state, even if benevolently hegemonic.
Last week, The Global Times mentioned the new importance of the Tibet Military Command’s, which will now function directly under the jurisdiction of the PLA Army, the ground forces’ central command; the TMC won’t be a district of the defunct Chengdu Military Command Areas anymore. An ‘analyst’ told The Global Times: “China continues to strengthen its military presence in the autonomous region and aims to allow the military command to shoulder more combat assignments.”
Against whom? India? China Youth Daily had earlier reported that the TMC’s political level will be elevated to a higher rank than the other Provincial military commands; it added that it marks a “new journey for the Tibet military command’s construction.” What does it mean for India?
The first radical change was the remoulding of the seven MACs into five Military Theater Commands, with the entire Indian front, from Arunachal to Ladakh coming under the same command (Western Theater), instead of two MACs (Chengdu and Lanzhou MACs).
The Global Times noted that border disputes between China and India have not been completely resolved, though last month Chang Wanquan, the Chinese Defence Minister, reacted positively about setting up a military hotline with India when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar visited Beijing.
Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the party’s mouthpiece that the TMC promotion “will significantly improve the command’s ability to manage and control the region’s military resources, as well as provide better preparation for combat.” Song added that the TMC has the great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, and currently it is extremely difficult to secure all the military needed resources: “Military action in the TMC requires specialist mountain skills and long-range capabilities, which need the deployment of special military resources.”
The ‘expert’ further noted: “The promotion of the command’s authority level shows the amount of attention China places on the defence of its southwestern borders. The higher the authority level, the more military resources the command can mobilise.”