Shikha Aggarwal writes: As the world grapples with Covid, China has been meticulously steering a version of the pandemic saga in which it emerges as the paragon of hope, good governance and international leadership.
As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) approaches the centenary of its establishment, it has emerged as the most successful, albeit ideologically incoherent, experiment of the Marxist paradigm. Its internal contradictions and aspirations of global leadership mean that this communist behemoth constantly seeks domestic legitimacy as well as external endorsement of its Orwellian moorings. These two determinants of the CCP’s existence are linked through a state-sponsored project: Any outside recognition is deftly used to perpetuate the image of China’s rising international stature under the CCP for the domestic audience.
A prominent strategy employed by the CCP to advance its role in global politics is “party-to-party diplomacy” through which the CCP manufactures consent for Beijing-led narratives, geo-strategic constructs and China’s global ambitions among political elites and parties in other countries. The party organ dedicated to this enterprise is the International Department (IDCPC).
The IDCPC is one of the five principal bodies that operate directly under the CCP Central Committee and has so far established relations with more than 400 political parties and organisations in over 140 countries.
As the world continues to grapple with the Covid crisis, and international diplomacy struggles to retain its former vigour, the IDCPC has been meticulously steering a Kafkaesque rendering of the pandemic saga in which the CCP under Xi Jinping emerges as the paragon of hope, good governance and international leadership. Several such activities by the IDCPC enlisted participation from political parties across South Asia.
To control the global narrative on Covid-19, the IDCPC formed a Leading Small Group to deal with the novel coronavirus as early as January 2020. As the contrast between China’s rapid recovery and the international community’s intense struggle with the pandemic began to play out, the IDCPC dispatched letters to more than 110 political parties in over 60 countries. These letters detailed the CCP’s efforts in controlling the epidemic with Xi at the forefront and highlighted how China has been sharing information and offering support and aid to other countries.
Later, the IDCPC hosted an international conference along with the Secretariat of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), titled “Synergy and cooperation against Covid-19: Asian political parties at work”. It also led 230 political parties from over 100 countries to issue an open letter for international cooperation against the pandemic. From South Asia, the letter was reportedly signed by eight political parties from Pakistan, including Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf; two from Bangladesh, the Communist Party of Bangladesh and the Workers Party of Bangladesh; and the Nepal Communist Party.
Through these seemingly innocuous initiatives, the IDCPC adroitly spearheaded an international appeal by world political parties to oppose the politicisation of the virus and to refrain from stigmatising any country. These events served as a launchpad for the IDCPC to embed the idea of a “community with a shared future for public health” — an avatar of Xi’s “community with shared future for mankind” — within global conversations on the pandemic.
With China getting back to normalcy during the second half of 2020, the IDCPC’S public diplomacy evolved into three core missions. These include showcasing the strengths and success of the CCP model in containing the virus, soliciting public pronouncements of gratitude from the international community for China’s aid and cooperation, and projecting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the panacea for the post-Covid economic recovery of countries. All three goals were inscribed into the blueprint of every multilateral or bilateral document released by the IDCPC and relayed back home as evidence of the CCP’s growing centrality within the global political landscape.
In one such outreach to political parties from South Asia, China’s control of the epidemic was dubbed as a “strategic achievement” that demonstrated the superiority of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” under the leadership of Xi. This seminar was attended by Madhav Nepal from the Communist Party of Nepal and Dinesh Gunawardena from the People’s United Front of Sri Lanka among others.
Interestingly, the BRI segment of the IDCPC’s Covid-19 strategy was accorded special emphasis in the case of Nepal and Sri Lanka. The IDCPC established Joint Consultation Mechanisms on the BRI between the CPC and major political parties from the two nations.
While the exact impact of the IDCPC’s activities on China’s domestic discourse or the foreign policy outlook of political parties can only be ascertained through extensive empirical studies, the IDCPC represents a crucial component of the strategic and institutional paraphernalia employed by the CCP to belie all predictions of its impending doom, and continue with its relentless march to cast international politics in its own image.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 30, 2021 under the title ‘Cast in China’s image’. The writer, a Senior Fellow at India Foundation, is currently in Taipei on the Taiwan Fellowship awarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan
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