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Great Wail of China: Welt and Rod Initiative

By Mukesh Sharma
Beijing, Jan 8 (IANS) Geopolitical Expansions to the East have historically kicked up a lot of geostrategic dust. From the ravenous appetite of Beijing for Taiwan to the Eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Slavic sphere has lately been up in smoke.

The Slavs — a member of a group of peoples who speak the Slavic language – have been traditionally caught between the West and East, and now China. While Ukraine burnt, Vladimir Putin did not fiddle but struck with a vengeance. Moscow has cast its sphere of influence on Beijing in a way to compensate for its loss of national power to the West.

While a country as conservative as Saudi Arabia is trying to open up despite an extremely eventful past, China is cracking down hard on dissent — from blacking out BBC to blocking LinkedIn – mere symbolism, but one that is not lost on the world.

Beijing's staunch ally Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is celebrated Christmas on January 7 in keeping with the tenets of the Russian Orthodox Church. The only country after China that is cracking down on dissent and holding its oligarchs to account is Russia. However, in the authoritarian sweepstakes, if the Kremlin takes the cake, Beijing takes the bakery and a manicured one at that. Business magnate Jack Ma, whose Pinyin name is Ma Yun, suddenly disappeared from public view just before he was set to become the richest man in Asia in November 2020. The Alibaba co-founder — infamous for asking youth to work 996 (9 am to 9 pm, six days a week) and inviting a response that was everything but weak, probably rubbed the State Council the wrong way. The message conveyed to the country by Beijing -- fall in line and don't mess with the seven omniscient men who run the Civilizational State. Because if the richest can be made to do a Houdini, what are the plebians.

In my numerous interactions with career diplomats, Beijing remains an enigma. One diplomat who spent about three years in an Indian mission in a Middle East country and never got tired of explaining how he could not download WeChat on his mobile phone, failed to quite understand that the online application plays truant in many countries including Germany and Russia. Like many things Chinese, it is hard to understand but equally interesting!

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched as an answer to what Beijing calls the West's expansionist agenda has spread its footprint across a spectrum too wide for the likes of G7 or G20 to replicate. It is like a broad-spectrum antibiotic (Alibaba supplies bulk pharma ingredients) injected to fight an invasive West.

China's geopolitical interests spilling onto the ocean have created a muddled splash in the South China Sea, which has become a hot button issue, somewhat like what Indonesian leader Sukarno tried to do for the Indian Ocean in the middle of the 20th century. Beijing has stopped short of just raising a demand for renaming the Ocean — it claims Arunachal Pradesh and what it calls Ladakh is more than well known.

From Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to Kenya to Mexico, the average Chinese is slowly becoming omnipresent. A Sri Lankan taxi driver fretting over what he calls the takeover of the country by China wouldn't surprise many these days.

Rigidity being the hallmark of a government given to a strong cadre base, President Xi Jinping's thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics follows 'Buddhism with Chinese characteristics' or 'Sinicization of Islam'. A civilizational state governed by a Communist Party may pull different ways, but the surveillance cameras at every nook and corner in every city are focused firmly on the bystander.

I may have apparently digressed from the main subject — the administratio's authoritarian streak, but there is no way escaping that in a country that manages almost a sixth of humanity.

China's Reform and Opening Up sounds progressive, but comes nowhere near to the former USSR's Glasnost and Praestroika, implemented by Mikhail Gorbachev before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A tennis star recently disappeared from public view, only to resurface some days later, and a senior foreign journalist was in a pickle for purportedly trying to do what he is not supposed to.

So much for reform and opening up!

In a park in Beijing's Chaoyang district, I saw a man crack the whip on a Chinese top that went groovy because of the leather strap tied to a cane swishing past every time the toy with a blunt bottom floundered.

Welts and belts go together. It's not over the Top of the reader, I hope. The less said the better.