When 'socialist brothers' can't get along with one another

November 23, 2017 10:32
During his recent visit to Hanoi, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the “brotherhood” between China and Vietnam. But Vietnamese leader Nguyen Phu Trong appears to be far less passionate about the ties. Photo: www.news.cn

In face of the chaotic situation in western democracies, some western media and academics have been praising China's political system for being more “efficient” than western models.

However, despite this “efficiency”, only a handful of countries are adopting the Chinese model.

From Beijing's point of view, there are only five socialist countries left in the world, namely China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba.

In fact, it's highly questionable whether North Korea can still be considered a socialist state: the country replaced Communism, Marxism and Leninism with “Juche” or “self-reliance” as its guiding principle and official state ideology way back in 1980.

Worse still, the four remaining socialist countries as defined by Beijing are not on good terms with one another and have serious conflicts among them.

After the “triumph” of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping paid state visits to Vietnam and Laos. Before he set out for Hanoi, the Chinese leader published an article in Vietnamese media, in which he referred to Sino-Vietnamese ties as “a special friendship between comrades and brothers”.

And when he met with Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, he once again stressed the “brotherhood” between their two peoples.

However, it appears the Vietnamese leader was far less passionate about the “brotherhood” between Hanoi and Beijing than his Chinese counterpart.

As we all know, there was some bad blood between China and Vietnam, which eventually led to a shooting war in 1979, and the two countries are still caught in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Also, the Vietnamese Communist Party officially ditched its ideology-oriented approach to diplomacy in 2006, and this has further exacerbated the ideological and strategic conflict between Beijing and Hanoi.

China is also increasingly dismayed at Vietnam's eagerness in carrying out political reforms and learning from the western democratic system.

Laos, on the other hand, has largely remained Vietnam's vassal state since the 1970s. During the 1979 Sino-Vietnam War, Laos publicly sided with Vietnam against China.

Politically and economically, Laos has been deeply influenced by Vietnam. With regard to foreign policy, Laos has given absolute priority to Vietnam over China, hence the fragile relationship between China and Laos.

Relations between China and North Korea are even more complicated and volatile. Ever since Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011, he has been aggressively pressing ahead with his country's nuclear program, which, in the eyes of China, constitutes a huge threat to its strategic interests. As a result, relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have hit rock bottom.

Recently, when reporting on the congratulatory messages on the success of the 19th National Congress of the CPC sent by “socialist brother states”, China's mouthpieces mentioned Vietnam, Laos, Cuba and North Korea in sequential order. Yet in 2002, 2007 and 2012, it was North Korea which came on top of the list.

As a routine practice, a socialist country, after holding a party national congress, often sends its party officials to other socialist states to apprise them of the results and resolutions of its national congress.

This year, after the 19th National Congress of the CPC, President Xi sent Song Tao, director of the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPC, as his special envoy to Vietnam and Laos on Oct. 31 and Nov. 3 respectively to report on the results of the congress.

However, it wasn't until Nov. 17 that Song Tao finally went to Pyongyang to meet with Kim, which, to a considerable extent, reflects the currently poor relations between China and North Korea.

In the case of Cuba, it is now on relatively good terms with China, with President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang paying state visits to Havana one after the other. Still, the two countries can hardly look after each other since they are hundreds of thousands of miles apart.

As such, although China has risen to global prominence in recent years, it can still hardly play the role of “big brother” of the socialist bloc.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 17

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor