Foreign Policy Conversations

Webinar on “China’s Communist Party Turns 100” Date: 19th July 2021 ; 7 pm (New Delhi); 9:30 am (New York); 9:30 pm (Singapore); 2:30 pm (London)

IIT Madras China Studies Centre

Executive Summary

July 2021 marks 100 years of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. The centenary of the CPC invites reflection on the trajectory of the party, its internal dynamics and what its enduring resilience means for China and the world. The IIT Madras China Studies Centre brought together subject experts to re-appraise the last 100 years of the CPC in a webinar that had registrations from 19 countries and over 100 participants at any time during the event. 

Featured Experts 

* Prof Hans van de Ven (Cambridge University) 

* Prof Michael Szonyi (Harvard University) 

* Prof Jean-Pierre Cabestan (Hong Kong Baptist University) 

* Prof Kishore Mahbubani (National University of Singapore) 

After opening remarks on the topical relevance of the event by IITM CSC In-Charge, Dr Joe Thomas Karackattu, Prof Michael Szonyi initiated the discussion with remarks on the nature of formal celebrations in the PRC, which are carefully orchestrated toeschew self-reflection. He noted that a critical appraisal of the CPC from the outside calls for rethinking the accomplishments and failures of a party that has withstood several predictions of collapse. Professor Hans van de Ven launched into the topic by noting that the centenary of the CPC is a momentous event as various modes of thinking, including the Marxist-Leninist ideology espoused by the CPC and western models of development, did not envision an authoritarian government that would both endure and deliver on social and economic advancement. Although the history of the CPC is documented in terms of Politburo resolutions, its periodisation can be reimagined to appreciate the liberal humanist, cosmopolitan, revolutionary, reformist and counter-reformist elements that have informed its trajectory. The party’s discipline, ability to learn from its history and change course quickly underscore its resilience, according to Professor Hans van de Ven. 

Professor Kishore Mahbubani picked up on the question of the CPC’s persistence, imputing its success to the mission of reviving the Chinese civilization. China has the attributes of a global power, identified by Kennan in his Long Telegram, even arguably outdoing the USA on certain parameters. According to Professor Mahbubani, although India is capable of emerging as a potent economic power that rivals China, it has yet to embrace globalisation as China did and integrate with the largely friendly neighbourhood of Southeast Asia. Given that India can provide an alternative to countries seeking to circumvent the US-China rivalry, it must rethink the merits of its current posturing as a geopolitical competitor to China. 

Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan delved on the CPC’s capacity for reform and change, identifying turning points in its hundred-year history. The ‘recentralisation’ of power under Xi Jinping, both within the CPC and the central government, raises questions about the value of this strategy for economic development. Although there is much continuity in how the party envisions the society and where the government has led the country, according to Professor Cabestan, it remains to be seen whether the CPC canreform itself to eliminate its opacity and top-down approach, without jeopardising itself. 

On the question of whether the CPC can successfully tackle external issues, the speakers expressed concerns and optimism, citing instances of China acting pragmatically and making long-term plans by cultivating patterns of interdependence. The discussion ended with a note of thanks for the Chair, Prof Michael Szonyi, and the guest speakers for the stimulating conversation, and an invitation to the audience to future events hosted by the IIT Madras China Studies Centre (updates accessible at www.csc.iitm.ac.in and Facebook and Twitter pages) .

 (This event report has been prepared by Neha Susan Cherian)