New Delhi: While muted hostilities have characterized Sino-Indian relations since the 1962 Chinese aggression in addition to Beijing encouraging Islamabad against New Delhi, ties between the two states could get a lot worse in the foreseeable future. In addition to all the other causes that keep India-China relations fraught is joined one more, and it has typically nothing to do with Beijing-New Delhi affinities at all. This is the Chinese strongman, Xi Jinping’s decision to replicate the Cultural Revolution that threw China into turmoil for more than a decade in the Sixties and Seventies and caused the tragic birth of the “lost generation”.

In late March this year according to the media, the youth wing of the Chinese Communist Party detailed a programme to send over ten million urban and migrant youth to “impoverished villages” to participate in “rural rejuvenation” programmes advocated by Xi. Unlike the forced relocations of the Cultural Revolution, this was billed as “voluntary”. Since it carries Xi’s authority, it works out pretty much the same. There is panic in China with this new policy and quite justifiably.

Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution cynically to consolidate his hold on power. It did not even have the fig leaf of rapid industrialization of China of the Great Leap Forward which killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese in famine. To deflect political criticism from the horrible tragedy, Mao took refuge in nationalism and attacked India in 1962. Having been an unbroken centralized power for centuries, Chinese rulers have generally succeeded in misleading the population with nationalism. Taiwan, India and Japan have often faced the brunt of it whipped up by insecure Beijing. History threatens to repeat itself.

Xi’s immediate provocation for Cultural Revolution 2 is the faltering Chinese economy. The trade war with the United States has peaked urban unemployment and rural migrants pouring into cities in tens of thousands have further made economic disaffection a ticking time-bomb. Following the Tiananmen Square massacre, Deng Xiaoping had sought to channel youthful democratic aspirations into Chinese capitalism and wealth-creation. As long as these succeeded, democratic forces could be contained and the monopoly leadership of the Chinese Communist Party maintained. It put an unflagging strain on the leadership to succeed at all cost. This was the Red Queen hypothesis applied to the peculiar circumstances of China.

The Red Queen tells Alice in Through the Looking Glass that “it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place”. Deng designed the export economy in consequence to keep China permanently fuelled. Except that the world no longer accepts Deng’s prescription for China’s inexorable rise. Stock markets all over the world plunged today on the news that Donald Trump plans to widen the high tariff net for many more Chinese products. If the Chinese economy collapses under Trump’s pressure, the Chinese Communist Party will lose its monopoly on power, and Xi Jinping will be drummed out of office. This explains Xi’s regression to the dark era of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.

Xi claims the Cultural Revolution rebuilt his body and soul but the vast majority of his generation insists it destroyed them. It cannot be otherwise with Cultural Revolution 2. To deflect from its failure and an irretrievably collapsed economy it will occasion, Xi or his successor will seek a nationalistic diversion, which may be the provocation of hostilities with Taiwan or India. As a United States ally, hostilities with Japan would bring complications that China may not be able to handle. India is perceived as a hostile neighbour since 1962; India’s asylum to the Dalai Lama has prolonged the Tibetan independence movement even if this not be the Indian aim; India’s economic success has made democracy threatening to China’s rulers and attractive to the masses; and a “bloody nose” to India would caution its Western partners to handle Beijing with care.

Except that India is no pushover and will give back as good as it gets. But there is no harm in being prepared.