In almost every conversation about PRC’s rise, we are inundated with comparisons with the erstwhile Soviet Union. Is China the new USSR? Would there be another Cold War? Would it similarly collapse? Will democracy and capitalism and the greed that comes with it finally sway the Chinese Middle Class?
Most critics of the USSR and its form of government love pointing out the fact that Communism lasted only 90 years, and an authoritarian system is not feasible or practical because humans ultimately choose freedom and liberty. However, they fail to mention that the liberal democracy that they preach and believe to be infallible is not even a century old. Only after the end of the Second World War and the introduction of the Marshall Plan did the current form of liberal democratic governance became prominent. And that too only in some small countries of the Western Hemisphere and Japan. Larger countries in terms of both size and population in the East were adopting a form of Planned Economy closer to Socialism rather than Capitalism.
Moreover, 2 of the largest countries – India and China – with their distaste for Colonialism were moving closer to the USSR rather than the liberal democracies of the West. Both have a proud heritage going back hundreds of years and neither had democracy or republicanism in their roots. Therefore, it should have been clearer then as it is now that neither would be truly democratic or liberal like any Western Democracy. This brings us back to our current discussion – Will China be the new USSR; and more importantly, will it collapse?
I believe the answer is Yes, it will be the new USSR, and No – it will not collapse or go down peacefully like Gorbachev’s USSR did, at least in our lifetime. However, how PRC will replace the USSR and or what kind of problems it will create for the West; only time will tell.
While PRC has always called itself ‘Marxist’ and claims to be led by a ‘Communist Party’, in the 45 years since Mao’s death it has hardly followed the 2 ideological tenets of a Communist Nation –propagating Communism among its natives and belonging to or establishing an International Communist movement. After the USSR’s weakening and ultimate collapse, it was clear that PRC as the most populous and powerful Communist country should take the lead in forming an international order of like-minded nations. However, Deng Xiaoping’s China shied away from this role. Deng knew the importance of western investments and steered his country to a path of prosperity rather than ‘eternal conflict’. The other members of the Communist Party with loftier goals of establishing a world order were simply biding away their time. They understood that the emergence of China in its rightful role as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ was to come later.
Their aspirations are finally coming true 40 years later in the form of Xi Jinping.
Following the Second World War, the USSR established itself as the antithesis of the United States. Both were in a race to turn as many nations as possible towards their form of the economic system and thus prove they had a better philosophy of governance.
It was touted as the war between Socialism and Capitalism. It was not. It was the conflict between liberalism and authoritarianism. What set apart the United States from the Soviet Union was not Capitalism but liberty and freedom of expression. Nothing is a better example of this than the fact that Russia and most countries of the former Soviet Union practice some form of Capitalism, but no one can call them liberal or a democracy.
Thus, the ideal nemesis of Western Democracies would not be a country that practices Socialism or Communism but a nation espousing the values of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. No one can be closer to seizing this mantle and be considered the USSR’s successor than Xi Jinping’s PRC.
Xi Jinping in his 8 years as the Party General Secretary has undermined most of Deng Xiaoping’s ideological canons for China’s ‘peaceful’ and ‘quiet’ growth; and has clearly outlined a plan that underscores a bold and aggressive China – which is bent on occupying the space ceded by the USSR. This new China is not afraid of asserting itself in an increasingly multi-polar world. Far from being cowed by Western sanctions or reprisals, it will retaliate in much harsher terms.
Contrary to popular belief, 2020 was not the first year that we witnessed Chinese aggression and its ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’. It has been in play since the Obama years. It is only now that we have awakened to its true extent. In the next series of articles, we will attempt to outline the machinations put into place soon after Xi Jinping’s rise in 2013 and try to explain how this will affect India and the World.