What a difference a year makes! A year ago, on June 4, Xi Jinping – the boss of China and the unelected master of the country’s fate – was confident enough to brush off the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square atrocity, and was gearing up to push back against a rampaging US President who seemed to have the roughest of touches on the delicate issues of diplomacy.
Today, after a complete year, Xi is besieged due to the outright lies and cover-up of the novel coronavirus since late 2019.
As in any country, it is the domestic situation that tends to be a catalyst for foreign overtures, and so is the case with China.
Millions of Chinese today believe even less the lies coming out from the leadership of the Communist Party of China. They know that their leaders kept mum when hundreds of thousands of Chinese were traveling to and from Wuhan between September and December of 2019. They are furious that the same leaders (both at the provincial and central levels) kept quiet when millions of Chinese (more than 5 million from Wuhan alone) were crisscrossing the continental sized country in the first three weeks of January 2020 for the Lunar New Year to go to their family homes, mostly in the poorest parts of China.
The leaders knew all along that there was a deadly SARS-like virus with human-to-human transmission capabilities, but deliberately chose not to share this with their 1.4 billion strong compatriots.
While the “fake numbers” for Wuhan have been shared with the Chinese people and the rest of the world, the fake numbers for the poorest of Chinese provinces are still ‘state secrets’, if the contents of recent instructions from the “Propaganda department” of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) are to be believed. But, hush! The revelation of state secrets is a stringently punishable offence in what is claimed to be the “People’s Republic” of China.
With the people of the country pushing for answers, President Xi Jinping has decided that offence is the best form of defense – offence towards the outside world, that is.
Hence, now we have a series of aggressive territory-claiming moves in the region: over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea with Japan; in the South China Sea with Vietnam, Malaysia and others, and over the Line of Actual Control with India in the Ladakh region, among others.
Most military experts would say, and insist, that even the most militarily powerful countries prefer to open just one front against a rival, while ensuring that the others are quiet and covered. But the same does not go for Xi Jinping.
He is a different kind of leader, the true inheritor of the ‘red’ gene from Mao Zedong. So, he does not mind stretching the Chinese military thin over land, water, and in the air, just so he can ignite ‘nationalist fervour’ amongst the people of China, and divert their attention away from the misdeeds of the party and the government.
But this time is different. People across China, from the smallest village to the mega polis of Shanghai, seem to have found their voice despite the draconian clampdown.
The Chinese online world is buzzing with memes and word plays that express the people’s anguish in the most creative ways – reminiscent, in some ways, of those under the Soviet yoke. The censors move in quickly, as always, but the number of negative sentiments being expressed is the highest in the past seven years, an indication of how fast the façade has fallen from the face of Xi Jinping.
Remember, this is the country that came up with May the 35th, simply because the censors would not allow them to refer to June the 4th.
China today not only continues to shut up any voices of dissent on the mainland, but its tentacles have moved to Hong Kong faster than many ‘fair-minded’ international experts had thought possible.
After 29 years of allowing June 4 candlelight vigils and protest demonstrations, 22 of them since Hong Kong returned to China, the Hong Kong authorities have decided to disallow any protests in 2020. This, days after Beijing, clearly disgusted that its hand-picked leaders of Hong Kong had been remiss in their duties, passed a resolution that enables China to frame a security law for Hong Kong – a territory whose legal, judicial, customs and economic systems were guaranteed autonomy under the Sino-British treaty till 2047.
So, on the solemn 31st anniversary of modern China’s most recent domestic atrocity (Tiananmen), and months after its latest international atrocity (Covid-19), it is time to collectively pray for the people of China.
It is also time to collectively resolve to press China to be a responsible and a transparent stakeholder in the international system that it has milked, and to force it to stop playing dangerous territorial games that could harm all sides and escalate into something even the Great Helmsman (Part II) cannot handle.