Sikkim border row: Xi Jinping's 'Chinese dream' makes solution unlikely before his re-election in November

Xi Jinping has a Zhōngguó mèng— a "Chinese dream".

Usurping Doka La or extending China’s border further south into Bhutan is but a tiny part of that dream. Before realising this dream in its awesome totality, Xi needs to get re-elected for his second term at the Communist Party Congress that will be held anytime after September this year, probably in November.

 Sikkim border row: Xi Jinpings Chinese dream makes solution unlikely before his re-election in November

Chinese president Xi Jinping. Reuters

So the Doka La faceoff can stay the way it is for at least three or four months. Xi dada, as he is known in China— dada in his native Shaanxi province means father or uncle — will come to grips with Doka La later.

First, about the Chinese dream, and why it gets Xi dada's adrenalin rushing.

It isn’t a new dream that came to the Chinese president just the other night when he slept in his secret bedroom in Zhongnanhai, Beijing’s equivalent of Rashtrapati Bhavan­ — almost everything is a state secret in China. Xi first spoke about this dream on 29 November 2012, two weeks after he was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China. There has been endless debate on who had first made up that phrase or from whom Xi had filched it. But the horrifying fact is that Xi had, and still has, that dream.

And after he took over as the President of China on 14 March 2013, the Chinese dream became Xi’s singular obsession and his signature slogan. Neither Xi nor any of his Communist factotum has ever deigned to define precisely what this dream is all about, except saying that it means working for a grand "renaissance" of the Chinese people.

But by 2016, the world was convinced that Xi is, in fact, daydreaming of Pax Sinica. (Latin for Chinese peace, the phrase refers to a point in history some 1,000 to 1,500 years ago when unchallenged Chinese hegemony enforced peace in East Asia.) In other words, Xi was struck by the fixation of resuscitating China’s past glory long before Donald Trump came up with the unconvincing shibboleth of Make America Great Again last year.

A Chinese dream, a global nightmare

What worries the world is that the Chinese dream has come to mean, among other things domestically, that Xi will turn China into a muscle-flexing monster across continents to browbeat countries that refuse to toe the Chinese line. He has already tried to do that to a degree.

But Xi found to his surprise that, to Make China Great Again, he needs more than the five years of his first term. So he is getting a second one of another five years in a few months when the 19th Party Congress meets. After whipping up nationalism bordering on jingoism with his talk of this dream, fashioning himself as an evangelist of globalisation nonpareil, unleashing the One-Brick-One-Road charade apparently to help the world but to boost Chinese industry, talking tough to countries like Japan and India and almost colonising Pakistan in the process, Xi has made himself a darling of his people—or so his media mouthpieces want us to believe.

No doubt, Xi will find it a cakewalk to get himself a second term, and that will give him ten years in power in all. There lies another problem. Will ten years be enough to turn a humongous dream into a reality? Xi doubts it. So he is angling for a third term when the second ends in 2022.

But that won’t be easy, if not impossible. By 2022, Xi will be 69, and he must leave the job if China’s informal retirement age of 68 for top leaders is implemented. Deng Xiaoping had brought in this rule to stop any leader from turning into a life-long dictator like Mao Zedong. But Xi’s supporters are already thumbing their noses at this rule, saying it’s not something that is “set in stone”. But Xi may have the option of staying on as a “Paramount Leader”, even after 2022, by appointing a yes-man as the president.

But all this comes later. For now, it’s this year’s party Congress that matters most to Xi. He may use it to test the waters for violating the age-ceiling rules.

While getting his second term, he is expected to extend the tenure of 68-year-old Wang Qishan, the Politburo Standing Committee member and head of the party’s Discipline Commission. Wang has not only led Xi’s anti-corruption drive but is a bouncer and troubleshooter of sorts for the president. By extending Wang’s term in 2017, Xi will set a precedent for himself to stay on at the helm beyond 2022.

Why immediate escalation at Doka La is unlikely

As all this goes on, Xi is most likely to push Doka La to the back burner. Writing for the Australian Think Tank Lowy Institute, Shashank Joshi presents four possible scenarios in the Doka La stalemate.

1. Either China or India will make a unilateral withdrawal from the disputed territory.
2. China will use force to expel Indian forces to teach India a lesson.
3. A protracted standoff.
4. A diplomatic settlement.

Joshi considers the first scenario unlikely because of the rigid posturing of China and India, China on its sovereignty and India on its national security. He is sceptical about the second possibility as well, because the region’s geography gives India a distinct military advantage, and China, instead of risking defeat, may think of striking India elsewhere to use it for a bargain in Doka La. He suspects that since the circumstances might not be ripe for the fourth possibility of a diplomatic truce, the third scenario is the most probable one.

A continued deadlock indeed seems most likely, if you consider how crucial the lead-up to the party Congress is for Xi to consolidate his power. Towards that end, Xi has been fixing his rivals in the guise of his otherwise well-meaning anti-corruption drive.

Earlier this week, Sun Zhengcai, a man tipped as a possible contender for the president’s post, was ousted, ostensibly for being corrupt. According to some reports, Sun’s downfall is a pointer to turbulent times in Beijing.

While the state-controlled media has unleashed an unprecedented publicity blitz to sing Xi’s praise, a communist party mouthpiece has unashamedly declared that China needs a Mao-like strongman like Xi, oblivious to the fact that Deng Xiaoping and many Chinese intellectuals didn’t want another Mao. Under Xi, China has also been experiencing media and freedom curbs, horrendous even by its own standards.

Xi is too busy with all his secret manoeuvres inside China to do anything rash in Doka La for the time being. In the meantime, the soldiers of China and India can stay on in the disputed area at kissing distance and go on fuming at each other.

Updated Date: Jul 30, 2017 08:19:31 IST

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