China in transition
Reviewed by Parshotam Mehra
China’s Path to Power: Party, Military and the Politics of State Transition
By Jagannath P. Panda. Pentagon Press. Pages xx+234. Rs 695.

China’s Path to Power: Party, Military and the Politics of State TransitionTHE importance of China as a global superpower needs no emphasis. Nearer home, it is an important neighbour with whom we have to fashion a relationship that is at once friendly as well as mutually beneficial. In other words, any study that promises to delineate the varied strands that have brought this about deserves close scrutiny. And as our scholarship on China is meager at best, this work is doubly welcome.

Overall, Panda concentrates on the "scope and extent" of China’s transition in a manner that would help answer the oft-asked million-dollar question as to whether the Middle Kingdom is heading towards "any sort of democratisation". More to the point, whether its much-touted "rule by law" is likely to translate into "rule of law".

The book is an ambitious attempt that, the author claims, tries to explain the dynamics of the emerging relationship between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the modern Chinese State. In this context, the objective of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) — the combined weight of its economic, diplomatic and military power — is to guarantee China its target of reaching an appropriate place at the global level. Though it is debatable whether China’s original authoritarianism has changed at all, the changes emanating from its institutional structure, the author would have us believe, point to a country "in transition".

An interesting if also a significant pointer to India-China interaction is an appendix, Recent Important Chinese Writings and Views on India, which purports to be "a survey" of media, official and scholarly writings/views on the subject. Inter alia it reproduces a report of June 11, 2009, in the Global Times about an online poll that showed that "90 per cent of participants" believed that "India poses a big threat" to China, that "despite cooperative India-China relations", the Indian Prime Minister had asserted that India would make "no concessions" to China on the territorial dispute. More, that New Delhi would send additional troops and build infrastructure, including airports, on its border with China.

The author claims that his study provides "a complex mosaic" of emerging relationship and dynamics between the Party, the Army and the modern Chinese State. That he is out to assess — to "measure"— China’s systemic strength and power. Even a casual student of China and its affairs would have no hesitation in admitting that Indian studies on China are scanty at best and disjointed at worst. These are patchy and weak. "Modern", contemporary China and its affairs centric, they can barely see beyond their nose. There are few if any studies of China’s rich past, of its history and culture, of the way it has impacted the world around. While Panda’s book is eloquent on the varied facets of today’s China and insists that the country is "in transition" and in the process of building "a new political order", there is little about how the land and its people have evolved over the aeons gone by.

His mentors insist on policy structure and research carrying forward the "government’s requirements" as an "integral part of most of the writing" of his work! More importantly, all the chapters had been planned "following the research agendas provided"by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

Interestingly, the book that bears the IDSA imprint carries a foreword by Professor V. P. Dutt, a "distinguished" fellow of IDSA, while the "leadership" of the Director-General of IDSA continually "helped push" it forward. At the end of it, all one half wonders how the book differs from an official handout. Or, an in-house production of IDSA, by IDSA and for IDSA. There is little space for an outsider/interloper, even less for this hapless reviewer. At the end of it, all what credibility if any would it command among all those, including this reviewer, outside the parameters that IDSA commands or caters to?

There are more than a dozen tables and charts some of which make for interesting reading, viz., "China and sprouts of democracy" and "regime transition under the demand-and-supply mechanism". Some of the appendixes are quite useful. One is "a backgrounder" to China’s current top leaders, another, a "note" on the structure of the Chinese state, still another, on "influential (select) think tanks". There is also a collection of "recent important" Chinese writings and views on India. And a "select" bibliography which includes news and media sources, important blogs and a list of "select" journals and newspapers.