China's top two obsessions — loyalty and Party

By Claude Arpi 
Claude Arpi 
In recent times, China has had two obsessions: stability and loyalty to the Party. China watchers know that when Beijing’s State machinery starts hammering a certain issue on the masses, it usually means that the leadership has a serious predicament.

Take the example of general Guo Boxiong, Politburo member and vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC); he recently reiterated that the armed forces “must resolutely follow the Party’s command and remain absolutely loyal and reliable”.
The senior-most PLA general said the Party must have “absolute leadership over the armed forces”, adding: “this will ensure that the armed forces ideologically, politically and in action resolutely follow the command of the Party”.Does it mean that some of the PLA think differently? Probably. Xinhua also reported that Zhou Yongkang, member of the all-powerful Politburo’s Standing Committee in charge of Security, who was recently in the news for his association with Bo Xilai, the disgraced Party boss of Chongqing, told a national conference in Beijing that maintaining stability was “the highest priority for the Party and government organisations at all levels”.
Tibet has been another obsession. Apparently, several high-level Party meetings were held, as for the first time the top leadership realized that the Dalai Lama’s demise will not solve the restive region’s issue. Zhou Yongkang specifically mentioned Tibet: “Campaigns against separatism and terrorism should be deepened and any sabotage attempts by domestic and overseas groups must… ensure the stability in key regions such as Beijing, Xinjiang and Tibet”.
The Tibet trip of Standing Committee member Li Changchun, who is in charge of the propaganda, should be seen in this perspective. One of Li’s initiatives is to re-popularise Marxism with Chinese characteristics. As chairman of the CPC Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilisation, Li is also responsible for the Party’s propaganda. It’s not an easy job, because he has to censure more than 550 million netizens. Li’s visit to Lhasa is the second in a year by a member of the Standing Committee (vice president Xi Jinping visited in July last year). It shows the interest that the bosses of the Middle Kingdom have in Tibet, especially after the 44 self-immolations, mainly by monks in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai.
Xinhua reported: “[Li] has stressed ethnic unity and cultural development in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as building an ideological basis for anti-secession and stability maintenance.”
When China’s propaganda boss visited the headquarters of The Tibet Daily, the local mouthpiece of the Party, he asked the staff to “introduce a real and changing Tibet to the whole world”. Well, that it not easy, when Tibet is still closed to foreign tourists. Logically, if Tibet was ‘changing’ for the best, as Li pretends, why not open it for all to see these changes?But perhaps, more importantly for India, Li Changchun was the second member of the Standing Committee in one year to visit ‘Southern Tibet’ and particularly Nyingchi Prefecture, north of the McMahon Line. He is said to have visited the local villages in Lunang county, near the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) gorges.
During his last visit to Nyingchi, vice president Xi Jinping had described Tibet “as an important national security screen for the country”. Two members of the Standing Committee visiting the border areas in one year! It is a first. India should watch carefully.
This comes at a time when, according to the weekly India Today, the Research and Analysis Wing prepared a report indicating that there was a possibility of a skirmish or an incident triggered by China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India Today said that the note mentioned that “Beijing was contemplating such an action to divert attention from its own domestic trouble”. The RAW substantiated its claim by pointing to increased Chinese activity along the LAC.
The note would have taken into consideration the fact that Beijing believes that the Dalai Lama is ‘fomenting trouble’ in Tibet, particularly the self-immolations. The report apparently concluded: “A prolonged conflict is, however, unlikely”.
Though it is not clear what China would gain from a Kargil-type operation in Tawang area or in Ladakh, there would certainly be a strong response from Delhi. Even though India may not be able to take on China on an equal basis, Indian retaliation could definitively hurt China; first and foremost the image of a dependable, trustworthy power with who one can deal, would be shattered. The fact remains that stability of the border areas and unquestionable loyalty to Party will continue to be the refrain for the months to come, at least till the new leadership takes over China.

NOTE-- Claude Arpi regularly writes on the geopolitics of the two sides of the Himalaya and the Indian sub-continent, environment and Indo-French relations. He blogs at

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