Erle Frayne D. Argonza

China’s impressive ascent from a struggling, poor, 3rd world agrarian economy to the growing industrializing giant that is it today renders the country truly worth accolades the world over. China achieved development with nary an aid from external sources which makes the development challenge truly a daunting one.

Yet China was able to forge ahead with its development targets. With the growth of China’s economy also comes the growth of its military might, which is raising eyebrows in the entire Asian continent. For its neighbors that are now locked up in territorial disputes with the economic giant, the positive esteem has turned into a nightmare of sorts as China’s military began to flex muscles by intruding into those disputed islands.

I just hope that the foreign policy analysts of the affected Asian countries would get to know well the configuration of political forces inside China. Foreign policy and actuations by the giant state can be best explained precisely by identifying and assessing the strength of the most powerful political forces inside the Chinese state.

My thesis about the matter is that among all political factions vying for hegemony over the Chinese state, it is the Ultranationalists who are at the helm of that state today. These are not nationalists of the old Kuomintang mold, as the Kuomintang was largely expelled from the mainland in 1949 yet. The nationalists are Communist Party cadres who are only communist in name but nationalists in mold.

Remember that socialist China was first dominated by the Maoists, whose rule reached up to 1976, the last year of the chaotic Cultural Revolution era (1966-76) of the Gang of Four. It was the Maoists who tied down China to its agrarian state, and equalized poverty as a sort of Spartan virtue.

The Liberal faction of the Communist Party took over the reigns of power, by overthrowing the Maoists in a coup d’etat post-1976. The Liberals produced the leader Deng Shao Ping whose faction was pro-West. This faction began the market reforms in China that led to its present social market economy, which was made possible with the return to power of technocrats (who were purged by the Gang of Four).

During the latter phase of the Liberals’ hegemony, a new nationalist mold calcified inside the Party. While not allergic to market reforms, they strongly adhered to dirigist principles that were steeped in mercantilist doctrines. They resonated with the Liberals for a while, whom they served as core allies in building an industrializing China.

The past president Guang Zemin and premier Zu Rongji are examples of leaders who were nationalists of a moderate mold. Their economic policies strongly align with Roosevelt’s New Deal and John Meynard Keynes’ demand-side economics and interventionist tools. The present president Hu Jintao falls within this ideological frame, even as the top executives of the state are of the moderate mold.

There is another faction within the nationalists that is extremist though, which we will label as Ultranationalists for lack of a better term. They are now well positioned in the bureaucracy’s echelon including the military. Ultranationalists tend to be militarists, and under their leadership expect the Chinese state to scale up military budgets and heap up hysteria of a ‘state of siege’ by neighboring countries and traditional world powers.

Ultranationalism could well be the cementing force that will rally the young Chinese behind the 21st Chinese state, a possibility that is worth watching. Ultranationalism is dreaded by Taiwan, a dread that is now spilling over to the other neighbors of China.

[Philippines, 15 June 2011]

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