NEW DELHI: Reading Pradip Baijal’s book Containing the China Onslaught brought forth one question: how did an official from the IAS with no experience of foreign policy (his claim to fame was telecom reform and public sector disinvestment), end up writing a book on China? Baijal answered that question at a discussion on his book at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi. He said his years in Harvard and Oxford, where he studied issues related to economic reform, also exposed him to the phenomenal rise of China bringing forth questions in its wake: how did a cast iron communist republic turn ideology on its head? How did they sustain 9-10% growth for a decade if not more? Is there an India story in this?
In conversation with Ashwin Ahmad on StratNews Global’s Books Corner, Baijal answers some of these questions. He credits Singapore’s late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew with helping Deng Xiaoping, then China’s leader, for preparing the blueprint that drove the country’s economic transformation. Most invaluable was the advice that investment, opening up of FDI inflows and trade, could exist alongside authoritarian state control.
Baijal elaborated on the political/diplomatic context of the economic reform, notably the softening U.S. stance towards China to counter Soviet Russia. U.S. president Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in Feb. 1972 broke the diplomatic ice of the Cold War and gradually opened the door to economic reform in China. This was used by later leaders like Deng who, Baijal says, performed a “judo trick” by encouraging U.S. and world manufacturers to settle in China and employ local labour ensuring that world manufacturing gradually came under Chinese control.
But as he points out, China was not able to manage some of the political consequences of economic reform: the Tiananmen Square protests which shook the foundations of the Chinese Communist Party. Baijal believes there is enough literature to prove that the protests were CIA-backed, but there is also the quiet exchange of letters between Deng and then U.S. president George Bush Sr. who tacitly extended his support to Deng. The two leaders ensured that the U.S.-China relationship remained on-track, Deng remained in power and the powers to oust him were quietened but hopes for liberal democracy were extinguished. Now listen in to this interview.