THE centenary of the Communist Party of China was observed with much pageantry on Thursday, with Chinese President Xi Jinping using the occasion to issue policy statements directed not only at his countrymen, but also friends and foes abroad. Much like the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic celebrated in 2019, the occasion was used to show the world how far China has come in the economic sphere, along with flexing Beijing’s military muscle. There were promises from the president to learn lessons from “other cultures”, but with the refrain that “sanctimonious preaching” would not be tolerated. In a more ominous tone, the Chinese leader warned that anyone trying to “bully, oppress, or subjugate” China would “have their heads bashed”. Considering the growing gulf of mistrust between China and the West, particularly the US, the warning was stark. Indeed the party must be commended for transforming China from a planned economy to a capitalist juggernaut, boasting the world’s second largest economy today. Of course, there were many pitfalls along the way, such as the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and after Mao Zedong’s experiments it was Deng Xioping’s adherence to “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that has made China into an economic powerhouse, albeit with an authoritarian political structure. It is this legacy that Xi Jinping wants to take forward, projecting China’s might globally. The Belt and Road Initiative, including CPEC, and Beijing’s growing military footprint, are all part of this vision.
While China has made great strides economically under the party’s watch, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty as World Bank figures show, Beijing can do more on the human rights front. In this regard, the Xinjiang issue, particularly the matter of China’s Muslim Uighur population, is a matter of particular concern. Western states have used the reported treatment of Uighurs, as well as the state’s handling of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, to lambast Beijing on the human rights front. China has dismissed these concerns and it is true that many Western states are selective in expressing outrage over human rights. However, where the Xinjiang question is concerned, greater transparency is needed and in fact, respecting the cultural norms of ethnic and religious minorities will strengthen China, not weaken it. While Pakistan has accepted Beijing’s version on the Uighur issue, it can, through diplomatic channels, urge China to address this issue judiciously.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2021