For months, China had been preparing for a mega parade to be held on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan in World War II. For the Communist regime in Beijing, the Grand Show was so important that after August 20, half the registered vehicles were barred from the capital’s roads. Some 10,000 factories in Beijing and the neighbouring provinces were closed and over 40,000 construction sites were temporarily shut down.
On ‘D Day’ (September 3), from the rostrum of Tiananmen Square, President Xi Jinping addressed the Chinese nation and the world, “We Chinese love peace.”
He reiterated that China was a peaceful nation, “China will remain committed to peaceful development. No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation.”
Just a few metres away, a mighty show of force was taking place! For an instance, seven types of missiles were displayed. Amongst them, the DF-26, an intermediate-range ballistic missile known as the ‘Guam killer’, with its 4,000 km range; the US naval base at Guam in the Pacific is within the missile’s striking distance. Then the DF-21D, an anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of 1,450 km, said to be able to knock off an aircraft-carrier; and the DF-5B missile, a liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic with multiple nuclear heads and a range of up to 15,000 km, able to reach any part of the US territory. And also the WZ-19 armed helicopters, the Y-9 transport aircrafts, the H-6K strategic bombers, the ZTL-09 or ZTZ-99A tanks or the HQ-10/FL-3000N missile short-range air-defence missiles used by the PLA Navy. The list is long.
Xi continued, “We must learn the lessons of history and dedicate ourselves to peace.” Has China learnt any lessons of History? Perhaps, Xi and his colleagues would like others to learn their lesson! China has always been on the right side of the history, isn’t it?
To show his good intentions, Xi announced that China will cut the number of People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) troops by 300,000 before 2017, while adjusting the ratio of ground, air and naval forces ‘to better cope with modern warfare’.
‘Better coping with modern warfare’ means ‘peaceful’ in Beijing’s dictionary. Soon after the Parade was over, Yang Yujun, the Ministry of National Defense’s spokesman clarified during a press conference, “Chinese armed forces will be slimmer but more capable, and their composition will be more scientific.”
A Chinese ‘expert’ told The Global Times, “The number of troops equipped with the latest weaponry will increase. Airborne troops, especially, would make a difference in future landing actions and attacks, their assault ability would be enhanced when deployed on air transport planes.” To make it worse, military experts believe that China hid many new gadgets. The South China Morning Post wrote, “China’s military parade was a show of force but also something of a ‘bikini show’, revealing much of China’s new military might and hardware while leaving the most sensitive parts concealed.”
By now you must already be confused. Is China peaceful or belligerent? China is both. Xi may have affirmed, “We need to foster a keen sense of a global community of shared future. Prejudice, discrimination, hatred and war can only cause disaster and suffering, while mutual respect, equality, peaceful development and common prosperity represent the right path to take,” but in case of conflict or if anybody dares to question Beijing’s core concerns, (namely Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, China’s Seas, etc.) China is ready for war. That it not all, Xi wants to reform the PLA. A recently leaked military report suggests that the reforms would involve the dismantling of China's seven remaining major military regions (MR); the seven MR would be consolidated into four major combat regions. About the 300,000 personnel cut, a Taiwanese website WantChinaTimes.com explained, “the troops to be cut may be transferred to form to ten armed police tactical units and 100 armed police warfare groups, with both likely to be stationed in the restive Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region.”
Some troops will probably be sent to Tibet too, to ‘stabilise the borders’. The border with Bharat indeed remains a priority for Beijing. Soon after the Tibet Work Forum, a large meeting on Tibet held in Beijing on August 24 and 25, China Daily mentioned an international seminar on Border Control Law Enforcement Cooperation and Border Security and Stability which took place in Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia.The seminar’s statement quotes Xi Jinping, who had affirmed during the Work Forum, “Given that the stability and security in the Tibet autonomous region are closely relevant to those of the whole nation.” It spoke of “the practical and long-term strategic significance of Tibet’s stability to the country as a whole.”
The China Daily article brings back the old ‘imperialist’ concept of ‘buffer zone, and adapts it with Chinese characteristics, “As a border region, Tibet has long served as an important safety shield for the whole country. Thus, solidarity among the various ethnic groups and a sense of national identity are of the utmost importance.”
One could ask, why have an international seminar to discuss these issues, including China’s borders with India, in Inner Mongolia? I have no answer.
A few days later, Yu Zhengsheng, the chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and member of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo left for Lhasa. Here too, the sky was blue, though it was more natural. Even if President Xi did not turn up, probably too preoccupied with the fluctuating stock exchanges, the poor figures of the Chinese economy and the ‘reforms’ of the PLA, and perhaps, more importantly, with his forthcoming visit to the United States, his ‘Thought’ was omnipresent and often quoted.
Yu had come to preside over the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. He addressed another Grand Show, in front of the Potala Palace, his lady colleagues of the Politburo on his side: Sun Chunlan (responsible of the United Front Work Department which deals with Tibet) and Liu Yandong, a State Councilor (i.e. Cabinet Minister).
While highlighting Tibet’s so-called economic achievements, Yu stressed that “maintaining stability in Tibet is a priority task in governing the border areas in the region.”
The only border areas Tibet has is with Bharat, let us not forget. The CPPCC Chairmain spoke of the strategic role of Tibet and said the region is an important shield of national security, “Tibet is an important shield of national and ecological security, an important strategic resources reserve base, an important place to preserve distinctive culture of the Chinese nation and an important passage for opening up to South Asia.”
How Tibet helps in preserving the ‘distinctive culture of the Chinese nation’ is a mystery. Regarding the ‘opening up’ to South Asia, the only way is via Bharat. Was Bharat informed of this? Yu continued, “Border areas must be well managed to successfully govern the country,” repeating, “The governance in the border areas is an indispensable part in governing a country. To maintain stability in Tibet comes first in governing the border. It is the ardent aspiration of the people of all ethnic groups to safeguard Tibet's harmony and stability and bring prosperity and development to Tibet. It is also the common wish of the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in China.”
China is a ‘peaceful’ nation, but Beijing is ready to bully its neighbours if they do not ‘behave’; at the same time, the Middle Kingdom has never been so nervous about ‘its’ borders. Yu Zhengsheng’s pronouncements during his stay in Lhasa are the best proof. Is it a sign of a mighty nation?
Claude Arpi (The writer is a French origin scholar who writes on China and Bharat-French relations )