Chinese President Xi Jinping is upgrading his military and promoting hyper-nationalism. Photo: AFP /The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nothing will be allowed to rain on President Xi Jinping’s parade.

As Beijing prepares for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, nearby polluting industries will be shut down, self-service gas stations will close and fireworks will be banned.

Blue skies must compliment the sea of red for the Communist Party’s big bash.

Courtesy of US President Donald Trump’s “gesture of goodwill,” the trade war will be put on hold for the day after his decision to delay tariff hikes on Chinese imports worth US$250 billion until October 15.

Center-piece of the celebrations will be a vast military cavalcade winding through the Avenue of Eternal Peace. It will bristle with cutting-edge hardware such as the Dongfeng-41 intercontinental ballistic missile, which is known as the “big killer.”

With an operational range of 14,000 kilometers or 8,699 miles, it can carry 10 nuclear warheads and has raised concerns across the Asia-Pacific region along with the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Overhead, a flypast by screeching J-20 stealth fighters will represent the airforce arm of the People’s Liberation Army.

“We will showcase some [of our most] advanced weapons for the first time during the parade,” General Cai Zhijun, a member of the Chinese Army General Staff, told a media briefing last month.

An understatement compared to an editorial in the jingoistic state-run Global Times. It donned its hard hat and beat the national drum in chest-thumping fashion:

“In the face of global turbulence and the frequent emergencies of troublemakers both in the region around China and across the world, China’s capability of strategic deterrence is of great importance to itself and to the security of the whole region.

“China’s strong military strength is a visible fact in accordance with the country’s industrial and technological development. The world will gradually recognize and adapt to the development of China’s military power. It will be less sensitive to China’s future new weapons and more respectful of China’s national strength.”

You could practically hear the trumpets in the background and the distant thunder from the fallout of the trade conflict between Washington and Beijing.

Cold War

In the past week, there has at least been a thaw in the economic Cold War before key discussions in the US next month.

The spiraling row has acted as a brake on China’s slowing economy, highlighted by a data dump of depressing numbers during the last three months.

“At the heart of the dispute is the same collision of incompatible demands that have been evident since the end of April,” John Edwards, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia, said.

“The broad package of measures on intellectual property, investment restrictions, and so forth appears to have been agreed, though there is still a wide gap on quite how much more China is prepared to buy from the US. But while China insists the penalty tariffs lifted as part of the deal, the US wants them to remain in place until China demonstrates that it is implementing its commitments,” he added.

Still, even if a deal is eventually hammered out, it will probably be a short-term fix.

Already a vocal group in Washington see China as the greatest economic and military threat to Pax Americana in the past 70 years as it rapidly develops into a high-tech superpower.

Others are more circumspect, especially in the land of Xi.

“One thing happening is that the Americans have lost their patience,” Wang Jisi, the president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University in Beijing, told the foreign affairs website China-US Focus.

“When they thought about China 40 years ago, or 30 years ago, they thought that China would become more like the United States – achieving democratic, political pluralism, more diverse views, and a rising middle class that will change the political system of China,” he continued.

“Their hopes are dashed and shattered. Some of them are complaining about China going back to the old days. I’m not so pessimistic. I think there will be twists in history, ups and downs in the bilateral relationship, but we should remain optimistic that China is changing,” Wang added.

Many would question that last statement under Xi as he tightens his grip on the CCP, extends the Great Firewall by strangling online debate and preaches, at times, an old brand of nationalism with Chinese characteristics.

Increased military spending has also transformed the balance of power in the East and South China Seas as Beijing’s new naval carrier groups flex their muscles under an umbrella of stealth fighters.

Economic Goliath

All this has become possible through the country’s unprecedented rise as an economic Goliath.

“After Xi announced the ‘China Dream of Great National Rejuvenation,’ the Communist Party of China identified three important stages of development under three different leaderships: the Chinese people ‘stood up’ under Mao Zedong; ‘became rich’ under Deng Xiaoping, and are ‘becoming powerful’ under Xi. Since Mao’s and Deng’s eras are long gone, naturally, Xi is the focus of this propaganda,” Palden Sonam, of the China Research Programme, wrote in a commentary for the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, an Indian think tank.

“With his rise as the CCP’s core leader, Xi has embraced an authoritarian form of nationalism based on his strongman leadership in the quest to transform China into a ‘Great Power,’ and has positioned nationalism as a route to realizing the ‘China Dream’,” he added.

In Washington, this is seen as a nightmare scenario among a group of senior figures with many calling for a tougher approach when dealing with Beijing. As the chasm of criticism widens, rhetoric and reason blur the lines of engagement.

Song Wei, a research fellow at the National Academy of Development and Strategy from the School of International Studies at Renmin University, cast a spotlight on the conundrum.

“There are differences between Chinese and American culture, but the two complement rather than oppose each other. For example, China may need more individualism to boost its society’s vitality, while the US needs more collectivism to eliminate increasingly tense disputes among different social class and ethnic groups,” Song said. “Labeling China-US competition as ‘a clash of civilizations’ will only stir up anti-China sentiment. It cannot help the two countries resolve their disputes.”

Yet there are other forces at play in Beijing’s backyard. The rise of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong has illustrated fears that the “one country, two systems” model is nothing more than a straitjacket, designed to suppress basic freedoms of expression.

What was agreed before the handover in 1997 with the United Kingdom has left a disillusioned generation demanding political change. Many are distant relatives of mainland Chinese that fled across the border to escape from the rule of the Communist Party.

“There is no doubt about Beijing’s agenda. In the near term, it wants the protests halted and the protesters quashed,” Ryan Hass, of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Susan A. Thornton, of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale University, wrote in an article for the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

“While Beijing would prefer Hong Kong authorities to do what’s necessary to restore order, they also have removed any pretense of subtlety about their willingness to take matters into their own hands, should they deem it necessary. Over the medium term, Beijing would like to tighten control over Hong Kong and prevent it from becoming enveloped in instability again,” they added.

And that is the dark cloud hovering over Xi’s big parade.

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