All is not well with China. The Chinese Communist Party is the State and vice versa. What we see is absolute power exercised by President Xi Jinping, both as the Head of the State and the Party, ever since he got endorsed his term for life by the Chinese Parliament — National People’s Congress — in March 2018.
China — a politically closed society that denies political and civil rights to its citizens — is worried about the growing religious practices. After the forceful occupation of Tibet in 1959, with the brutal crushing of lakhs of Tibetans by the Chinese People’s Army, making the 14th Dalai Lama to escape to India, China had suppressed religious freedom, with all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism coming under its total control. It is concerned that majority of Tibetans still hold the spiritual leader Dalia Lama in deep reverence. In fact, in mainland China, Buddhism is a very dominant religion, having more followers than any other religion. China considers religious authorities and institutions a political and security threat. And Xi Jinping demands — “Religious groups must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China”.
Today, the local government and Communist Party officials are actively involved in the management of monasteries in Tibet. The monasteries are required to fly Chinese flags and display portraits of the Communist Party leaders and the monks to be patriotic and law-abiding citizens.The surveillance cameras and even the police stations are located inside and outside monasteries and regular inspections carried to uncover the loyalists of Dalai Lama. The Chinese government is indoctrinating the Buddhist monks in Lasha to give up Buddhism and fall in line.Tibet is one of the most repressed and closed societies in the world. After 60 years of occupation, the Tibetans still resist China’s rule and defy its oppression.
Of late, the Islamic and Christian groups have become a target. The Xinjiang province has 24 million people — more than half of them are Muslim ethnic minority groups, mostly Uighurs. At the camp Hotanis — one of hundreds that China built in the past few years — hundreds of ethnic Uighur Muslims spend days together in a high-pressure indoctrination programme, forced to listen to the communist party leaders, sing hymns praising the party and write self confessions, described as brainwashing. It “is the country’s most sweeping internment programme since the Mao era”. Over the years, China has sought to restrict the practice of Islam and maintain an iron grip in the province. After violent anti-government attacks in 2014, Xi Jinping has escalated the crackdown to turn ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim groups into loyal citizens, endorsing the party ideology. The Chinese officials justifying it as “Xinjiang is an active period of terrorist activities, intense struggle against separatism and painful intervention”. Consequently, the mass detentions, the use of informers and expanded police surveillance, even installing cameras in people’s homes, has become an established norm reinforcing the totalitarian structure of the State. And the goal is “transformation through education”.
The Chinese government is also cracking down the Christians institutions. In its campaign to drive to “Sinicise” religion, demanding total loyalty to atheist Communist Party and seeking to eliminate any challenge to its power and authority, the government is coming heavily on the Christian congregations, destroying crosses, burning Bibles, closing churches and ordering followers to give undertakings renouncing their faith, in violation of freedom of religion the constitution provided in 1982. For the first time since the Mao’s Cultural Revolution — 1966-1977 — the religious freedom is shrinking even as China is undergoing a religious revival, with millions of underground and house churches defying the government dictates.
The worldview of Xi Jingling is flawed. He is ambitious to make China a superpower that once America was, adapting bullying tactics towards neighbours and seeking to establish its hegemony. Pakistan, under Imran Khan, is having a second thought on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Belt and Road Initiative with China proposing to invest $50 billion, as, according to the new regime in Pakistan, “it unfairly benefits Chinese companies”. The governments of Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and others have. too, begun to express reservations about the BRI, realising the debt trap.
The trouble is brooding in China. It will not be able to suppress religious freedom infinitely. China must resolve its inner contradictions. The hard core communist State, where one party monopolises political power and any political opposition or dissent is crushed, has ended up as the most vocal exponent of capitalism-free market economy. This is a serious contradiction. The Chinese belief that economic power will ultimately override the people’s urge for civil and political rights is misplaced, not borne by history. China must open politically sooner or later. How long could it afford to suppress the individual freedoms? Its notion that totalitarianism is an answer to the pitfalls of liberal democracy is wilfully misconstrued. As Nehru in his letter dated June 16, 1952, addressed to the chief ministers, on the eve of the first general elections in India — the largest electoral exercise the world ever witnessed — said: “Democracy, apart from its institutions, is a way of Government and life itself. I firmly believe that it is a better way than a dictatorship or authoritarianism. In the long run, dictatorships must, I think, rather stunt the growth of the country… It is very doubtful if the essential quality which underlies human progress, that is the creative spirit of man, can develop adequately under an authoritarian system.” The Chinese authorities must realise this fundamental truth.
G Ramachandram is a professor of Political Science and a retired principal who has published his magnum opus, The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal.