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Asian Conundrum

30 years ago today the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (then Hua Guofeng) announced the arrest of the Gang of Four.

The arrest of these most senior figures in the Chinese Communist Party (including the widow of Chairman Mao Zhedong himself) is popularly thought of as being the end of the bloody turmoil of Mao's catastrophic "cultural revolution".

Certainly the installation of Deng Xiaoping as the new moderate and reforming leader in 1977 turned the People's Republic of China into something much less murderous.

China remains under the control of Communists that have not repudiated Mao, even while they now acknowledge "mistakes". "Mistakes"? No one knows how many people died during the famines and massacres of the cultural revolution nor the equally catastrophic "Great Leap Forward" that proceeded it. The death toll is certainly tens of millions; it may even be over a hundred million- a number that is higher than Hitler and Stalin combined.

Despite the welcome moves to greater liberalism, China remains a tyranny and a highly unpredictable one at that. It is certainly significant that the PRC has criticized North Korea for their presumed nuclear test. Yet criticism is not enough. The wretched regime of Kim Jong-il is dependent on China- a fellow Communist state and a determined move by Beijing could remove this dangerous factor in East Asia for good.

Given the fact that the United States simply does not have the resources to remove Kim by force, it could prove a substantial opportunity for China. By removing the lunatic regime in Pyongyang China has the opportunity to offer reunification to Korea and to turn the united country into a neutral zone- removing American troops for the peninsula. If, of course, the Mandarins of the Forbidden city can accept the collapse of a Communist state.

It would certainly be a test of whether the Chinese state interest remains led by ideology or by power. From the point of view of Western interests, it is a moot but significant point- for the problems of Taiwan, the Spratly islands and the continuing oppression of Tibet remained us that we must still tread lightly.

The arrest of the gang of four started a process that is still not complete.

Zhou Enlai was once asked what he thought were the lessons of the French revolution :

"Its too soon to tell"

The same applies to the phenomenon of modern China since 1976- the great conundrum.


Anonymous said…
I suggest you read "The Third World War" by BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawksley. It is a fascinating tale on how China is the true leader of the pariah states, how it brought nuclear technology to both Pakistan and North Korea, and how both will lead China to inevitably conflict with the civilised world.
Cicero said…
Well, it is a novel so perhaps a little "sensationalised", but clearly China is not an ally of the West.
James said…
I read that book too hoping for a heavy weight discussion of international relations in the Far East. I'm afraid though that it bears all the hallmarks of the worst of British journalistic cliches and received wisdom about virtually every nation state involved - somewhat akin to Freddie Forsyth novel. Perhaps the kindest thing that can be said about it is that it's a highly 'imaginative' work.
Peter said…
It would certainly be an achievement on the world stage as seen through Western eyes, but it may look like jettisoning a brother state to the general public to which the Chinese regime is more repsonsive than is usually presumed (the primal fear of any Chinese government being instability let alone upheaval). Also, China would become the refuge for thousands of regime roadsters and would possibly have to take more responsibility than it can shoulder in respect of the sure to collapse North Korean economy and society. Politically it would be unacceptable to surrender the initiative and leave the mess to South Korea to sort out. Yet, South Korea's official line is that a German style unification could not be financed. Life is not as easy as it seems between the covers of a novel...
Cicero said…
Yes of course the ROK does not want a German style collapse of the North- which is why they have been so eager to promote the sunshine policy- but the fact is that the DPRK is now extremely unstable. The question for China is at what point MUST it intervene. That point might be surprisingly soon.
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