By Nantoo Banerjee
By making Xi Jinping a life-long leader of the China’s Communist Party (CPC) and president of the People’s Republic of China, the party not only endorsed Xi’s ambitious plan to make China the world’s No.1 military and economic power by 2049, far surpassing the United States of America, but also ensured that the programme does not get disturbed by the earlier practice of 10-yearly leadership change. No CPC leader has been as strong as Xi since Mao Zedong, the founder of the communist rule in China in 1949. Barring most unlikely circumstances, 2049 will also be the centenary year of the communist rule in China. The latest military-economic ambition of China is fully attainable if one considers China’s phenomenal growth under the communist regime in the last 71 years. The country’s GDP rose from near the global bottom-end in 1949 to the world’s second largest at over US$13.4 trillion, reports the World Population Review (WPR) 2021. The comparable US economy was worth $20.49 trillion.
China was even well behind India in industrial production in 1950. The WPR ranked India’s GDP in the seventh place at only $2.72 trillion. In the early 1950s, China’s annual import and export trade together valued at only a few hundred millions of US dollars. By 1998, China’s foreign trade figure rose by over 300 times to nearly $324 billion. China was the world’s 11th largest trade power in 1998. Now, China is the largest international trade power. Effectively, the country already ranks third as the global military power after the US and Russia. China has the world’s largest naval strength. China’s military strength has grown as rapidly as its economy. The country’s communist rulers have ensured that its military and economic powers are bunched together shoulder to shoulder. The historical evolution of China’s economic and military growth justifies the CPC’s ambitious global power target by 2049. Under Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and, now, Xi Jinping, China has undergone a historic transformation. Interestingly, last June 15, Xi turned 68, the normal retirement age which is no longer valid. Xi is due for his next (unlimited) term in 2022. Of the six previous presidents of the People’s Republic of China, only one, Liu Shaoqi, died under 80. Mao died a little below 83. Jiang Zemin is now 95. Yang Shangkun is 91. Hu Jintao is 79.
There is no immediate need to guess Xi’s active life span as China’s president and if his prolonged tenure could spell top level dissension ordestabilisation in the party. History has proved that CPC as a political organisation is much stronger than Vladimir Lenin-founded Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). CPC has been continuously making political inventions to stay relevant and become stronger. The most important of them after Mao was by Deng Xiaoping, who went for a collective leadership structure that kept the party intact accommodating all groups and sections of the 90 million-plus-member CPC. After his death in 1997, CPC has gone back to one-leader party with the emergence of Xi at the helm in 2012. The democratic world should be more concerned about CPC’s strategy, under Xi, to emerge as the world’s most recognised economic and military power in the coming years. An official assessment by the US government of CPC’s latest policy declaration and actions taken by Xi Jinping in this regard is interesting. The US assessment also, in a way, serves as a warning to countries such as India, which often exaggerate its capability of taking on China to protect its territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) disputed by China.
China’s strategy aims to displace US alliances and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, including QUAD and AUKUS, and revise the international order to be more advantageous to Beijing’s authoritarian system and national interests. Importantly, the latest US Secretary of Defence presentation before the US Congress on “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” did not forget to mention that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China thought it appropriate to indulge in border clashes with India. The PLA accelerated its training and fielding of equipment in 2020. Earlier this month, General Bipin Rawat, India’s Chief of Defence Staff, said China poses the biggest security threat to India. Rawat also said India is well prepared to deal with “any miss-adventure” by China on the “land borders or the high seas.” However, such statements are meant more for local public consumption than providing the right picture of China’s military strength which is being programmed to surpass the USA’s within 2049.
China is set to establish a robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances. Beyond its base in Djibouti, China is pursuing additional military facilities to support naval, air, ground, cyber, and space power projection. The US Defence report suggests China is considering a number of countries, including Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan, as locations for PLA facilities. A global PLA military logistics network and PLA military facilities could both interfere with US military operations and support offensive operations against the US as China’s global military objectives evolve. China is leveraging emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, quantum, cyber and more to challenge US interests in the Indo-Pacific. The US defence department report suggests that China “seeks to dominate technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. China is clearly attempting to link technology advances in the private sector with its military-industrial base. Both US and Chinese officials argue that key technologies that will shape the future of warfare, including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, quantum, and biotechnology, are fundamentally dual use (or general purpose).
China’s ambitious plan to become the world’s No.1 military and economic power by 2049 is a challenge for the entire democratic world known for periodical political and leadership changes and open debates on any policy matters, including strategic and diplomatic, that often weaken their key decision making processes. Although the USA is China’s top target towards achieving its global economic and military supremacy, it should be a much bigger concern for India, sharing a long disputed land border with its frequently clashing powerful neighbour in the north. Unfortunately, India has long neglected its defence preparedness and its linkage with civil industrial and manufacturing development, a practice followed by several advanced democracies, including the US, Russia, France, Italy and the UK. A strategic defence linkage with the US, Japan, Australia and some of the European powers offers little guarantee for India’s future territorial protection and peace. (IPA Service)