December 4, 2022

Putin’s war has brought Xi factional trouble

Russian influence in China today is reflected in their semi-alliance relationship, signed in 2001, specifically in Article 9 of the joint statement

By Srikanth Kondapalli

The members of China’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee generally tend to take a consensual approach on foreign policy issues. But when issues concern Russia (or the Soviet Union earlier), they tend to cause acute differences among them. Putin’s war on Ukraine is having the same effect now, just as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) begins its ‘two sessions’ (parliament and advisory body meetings) and plans to hold its 20th congress later this year. Much of it had to do with the love-hate relationship between the Soviet and Chinese Communist parties, their ideological agreements and differences. The Soviet Union helped to create the CCP in 1921 but also sought to keep it under its thumb. The CCP took the Soviets’ help but resented their bid to control it.

In the 1950s, China adopted the Soviet model of development and took its help to build 156 basic industries to modernise. But the CCP also threw out Defence Minister Peng Dehuai in 1959 for being close to Moscow. Senior politburo member Liu Shaoqi was accused of being a “Chinese Khrushchev” and paraded on the streets. In 1989, Zhao Ziyang, the party General Secretary, was accused of being the “Chinese Gorbachev” for siding with students in the Tiananmen Square protests. Yet, interestingly, when Xi Jinping took over as President in 2013, it was to Moscow he made his first foreign visit. The Kremlin even gave Xi a peek into the Russian military’s most secretive command and control centre during this visit.

Russian influence in China today is reflected in their semi-alliance relationship, signed in 2001, specifically in Article 9 of the joint statement. It is also reflected in the “multipolar world” campaign they launched against the West’s “neo-interventionism” and “coloured revolutions”.

The CCP congresses do generally attract high-intensity factional struggles, but in the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s nationalists, globalists, militarists, conservatives, liberals and others are all fanning out to mobilise influence in favour of their own factions. Among these is former President Jiang Zemin’s faction – which came under Xi’s intense anti-corruption onslaught. This faction has come out with two reports that defy the general consensus.

First was a critical report on February 4 in the Duoweiwang paper, believed to be close to Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong, on India’s diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest the participation of Qi Fabao, a PLA soldier who was involved in the death of 20 Indian soldiers in Galwan in June 2020, as an Olympic torchbearer. Earlier, on January 19, it had published “An objective evaluation of Xi Jinping”, which was highly critical of Xi’s tenure.

The CCP congresses do generally attract high-intensity factional struggles, but in the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s nationalists, globalists, militarists, conservatives, liberals and others are all fanning out to mobilise influence in favour of their own factions. Among these is former President Jiang Zemin’s faction – which came under Xi’s intense anti-corruption onslaught. This faction has come out with two reports that defy the general consensus.

These two reports, and the recent silencing of a few security officials such as Sun Lijun, Meng Jianzhu and others, or the defection of Dong Jingwei, have exposed fissures in the CCP. Xi is already under tremendous pressure due to the spread of the Coronavirus from Wuhan to the rest of the world, the continuing tariff and technology wars with the US, and human rights issues in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. Xi’s support to Putin’s actions have further complicated CCP struggles.

The Communist Youth League, another powerful faction, previously headed by Hu Jintao and now by Premier Li Keqiang and his deputy Hu Chunhua, has also been active, specifically as Hu Chunhua missed being named a sixth-generation leader in 2017.

Though the sixth plenum of the CCP in November 2021 had glorified Xi, suggesting the possible extension of his rule at the 20th CCP congress, the intensification of factional struggles since has been unnerving.

Importantly, Beijing was surprised by the ferocity of western sanctions ruining Russia. It must have given pause to any temptation to invade Taiwan. As a highly globalised economy, China cannot afford to attract similar sanctions, which could stall Beijing’s further rise. While China stated its opposition to western sanctions on Russia, it has offered Putin no help. On the other hand, China has also put on hold lending to Russia from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which it dominates, and the New Development Bank of the BRICS grouping.

[The article was originally published in Deccan Herald with the link: https://www.deccanherald.com/amp/opinion/putin-s-war-has-brought-xi-factional-trouble-1088425.html]

-Srikanth Kondapalli is Professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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