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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 46

Russian Scholars on Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Internal Situation of China

Tuesday 4 November 2008


Recently on October 18, the Russian Information Centre in the Capital witnessed an interesting interaction of several leading Russian scholars with Indian journalists. The scholars, who were in India to attend a seminar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, spoke in general on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as well as Indo-Russian relations. However, towards the end of the interaction there was a scintillating analysis of the internal situation in China by Academician Mikhail Titarenko, a world renowned specialist on Chinese affairs who spent nine years in China and speaks fluent Chinese.

The Russian scholars included, besides Academician Titarenko, Sergei Lunyov, Professor at the Department of Oriental Studies, Moscow State University, who specialises in international relations in South Asia, and Dr Tatiana Shaumiyan, a noted historian Orientalist, and Head of the Centre of Indian Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies (under the Russian Academy of Sciences) in Moscow; Dr Shaumiyan is also the Scientific Secretary of the Russian-Indian Commission on cooperation in the field of social studies.

Academician Titarenko spoke at length on the birth and growth of the SCO and how, besides tackling such issues as border problems among the member-states and questions of economic development of the constituent countries, it was paying considerable attention to the “three main evils” of our times—international terrorism, religious extremism and separatism.

He referred to the problems of security and territorial integrity of the member-states and highlighted the focus currently being given to such matters as collective security, the situation in Afghanistan as well as the US invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

He mentioned of the special anti-terrorist centre set up in Uzbekistan, the joint military operations and training held in Russia (in the Krasnodar region), China and Kazakhstan. Apart from ministerial level meetings of the PMs and Foreign Ministers, the Defence Ministers of the respective countries are also meeting annually.

In reply to a specific query Prof Sergei Lunyov informed that whereas the SCO had opposed the Georgian action in South Ossetia it was silent on the declaration of independence from Georgia by South Ossetia and Abkhazia “for reasons that are quite obvious”—he was implying that since the SCO member-states were themselves victims of separatism and secessionism (much like India vis-à-vis Kashmir) they felt discretion is the better part of valour and decided not to either support or oppose the declaration.

Dr Tatiana Shumiyan pointed out that Russia was keen to see India entering the SCO as a full-fledged member in the interest of stability in the region.

The most noteworthy feature of the interaction was Academician Titarenko’s brilliant exposition of the internal situation of China. Coming from him it carried exceptional significance. He pointed to the very high rate of growth in China (10 per cent per annum—stable for the past 10 years) and said the prospects of China overtaking the US in all spheres (except military spending) between 2015 and 2020 are quite bright. In the circumstances the Chinese have opted for a line of “permanent stability” in the realm of the political situation in particular.

In the last 30 years the foreign investment in China has been very high, China now has the largest stockpile of international currency (one trillion five hundred thousand dollars), its foreign trade has grown phenomenally (recording a 30 per cent growth per annum—and with Russia it is growing at 45 per cent). The India-China trade is four times more then the Indo-Russian trade. The annual trade turnover of China is two trillion dollars and certain non-traditional items acquire an important position in this. China utilises 2 billion 150 thousand tonnes of coal annually (more than what is utilised in other parts of Asia and Africa). This is true in the case of production of milk, meat textiles, tea, TV, videos, computers as well. It is also close to the US and Japan in the production of cars. As is well known, Chinese goods have taken over 60 per cent of the US’ internal market.

If you visit Beijing or Shanghai and don’t listen to the conversation of people on the street you would think you are in Tokyo or Hong Kong.

However, whenever in discussions with the Chinese China’s incredible growth rate comes up, the Chinese underscore that you have to divide the figure by 1.5 billion (the country’s population) and then it becomes clear that the nation’s per capita growth rate is quite modest. This candid elucidation of the actual state of affairs by the Chinese is quite extraordinary, according to Academician Titarenko.

He further pointed out that the growth of towns and cities in the country are incomparable with the modest development of Chinese villages; that is why the disparities in China defy measurement by any international yardstick. An idea of the condition of the people residing in the interior regions is available from the fact that the per capita annual income in those areas is barely 300 dollars (which means it is less than a dollar a day) and the number of such people is as high as one billion—moreover as many as 200 million Chinese peasants have sold out their land for a pittance to other peasants and become landless labourers. This explains why labour power in China is so cheap and why ambitious projects can be carried out at minimal expenditure. Additionally those working in such projects not only get low wages, they do not have basic labour rights that their counterparts enjoy in other countries. For the first time real health care and genuine education are reaching the interiormost parts of China only now. The system in vogue in China can be considered to be a socialist one at the very initial stages—it is essentially a society of low income, having just crossed the developed bourgeois stage of development (with all the economic stratifications and disparities).

Academician Titarenko was convinced that “China poses no threat to either India or Russia” and “it is facing so many problems in the domestic sphere that it poses a threat, if at all, to itself”. He openly declared: “If they (the Chinese leaders) forget the problems of their own people they will meet the fate of the erstwhile Soviet Union. But they are intelligent enough not to be oblivious of those problems.”

He also narrated a joke prevalent in today’s China. When Den Xiaoping died and was going to heaven to meet Karl Marx, the Chinese people told him: “Be humble, don’t show up and boast about what you have achieved. While giving him (Marx) an account of our situation, just concentrate on our problems at home. Tell him we are not interested in getting involved in international matters but instead are trying to do something for our country.”

Academicuan Titarenko recalled the devastation wrought by Mao’s Cultural Revolution when China’s relations with all its neighbours, barring Pakistan, deteriorated.

He appeared quite optimistic that China would go a long way towards resolving its manifold problems by functioning within the framework of the SCO.

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