Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What Peking Fears

Edward Cody's article in the Washington Post today - "A Chinese City's Rage and the Rich and Powerful" pinpoints the recurring nightmare of the communist autocrats in Peking. On June 26, in the small city of Chizou (pop. 120,000) 250 miles southwest of Shanghai, a minor accident between a young local on a bike and a wealthy entrepreneur from a neighboring state escalated into a riot that involved 10,000 and required 700 riot police eventually to disperse.

Liu's bicycle and Wu's shiny four-door sedan collided, sending Liu crashing to the ground. Almost immediately, witnesses said, Liu, 22, and Wu, 34, began arguing over who was at fault. In the heat of the dispute, they said, Liu damaged one of Wu's side-view mirrors, prompting Wu's muscular bodyguards to burst from the car and beat the skinny young man senseless, leaving him bleeding from his mouth and ears.

The beating, part of a minor traffic incident on a slow Sunday afternoon, ignited a spark of anger. The spark became a riot, evolving over eight chaotic hours into an expression of rage against the Chinese Communist Party's new fascination with businessmen, profits and economic growth.

After they saw what happened to Liu, Chizhou's self-described "common people" rose up against what they perceived as their local government's willingness to side with rich outside investors against Chizhou's own. By the end of the evening, 10,000 Chizhou residents had filled the streets, some of whom torched police cars, pelted overwhelmed anti-riot troops with stones and looted a nearby supermarket bare.
Recently, the resentment has exploded into violent protests, despite draconian laws against attempts to challenge the party's rule. Although press censorship prevents an independent count, the government-funded Ta Kung Pao newspaper said Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang estimated that 3.76 million Chinese were involved in 74,000 "mass incidents" during 2004.

Preventing the unrest from spreading has become a major preoccupation of President Hu Jintao and his lieutenants, who regularly call for stability as a condition for further economic progress. The stakes, they know, are high. If the violent outbursts get out of control, they could undermine China's boom and, ultimately, the party's grip on power.

Seventy-four THOUSAND incidents. This is the price of China's economic miracle - hundreds of millions of migrant workers and hundreds of millions more of locals who haven't shared in it. This is why as I've often argued that high economic growth is critical to the Chinese government. The tremendous rates of growth China has enjoyed the past decade has kept some of these frustrations capped as folks at least have jobs. Dial that growth down to 3% or flat and China becomes a very dangerous tinderbox.

Matthew Lifson of the American Thinker makes some very good points here:

While overall wealth has risen substantially over the last 3 decades of capitalism rising, there has been on balance a substantial majority of the people left behind, resentful, cynical, threatened, and envious of the few hundred million winners in the big rich coastal cities and favored classes. Random sparks thus ignite violent spontaneous protests. It is a pre-revolutionary environment.
China’s Communist indoctrination period provides plenty of memes with which to condemn an elite class. Teach a nation that a corrupt exploitative ruling class deserves to be overthrown at your own risk, comrades. China’s rulers have reason to worry about their lack of popularity.

They are frightened to death of Falun Gong, a religious exercise cult which they ruthlessly repress. Any national organization outside the control of the regime is anathema to them, since it could provide the basis for a revolutionary movement.
Out of desperation, China’s rulers are pushing a self-defeating and dangerous policy of resentful nationalism, directed mostly at Japan and the United States, as a unifying force...

China’s leaders, in other words, are in a difficult position. Their recent small revaluation of the yuan, something the US has long wanted, may have been as much to increase the buying power of its population as to pacify the Yankee Barbarians. Our policies should continue to aim at pressuring the leadership to concede more power and more benefits to their own people, thereby gradually democratizing. Economic liberalization will inevitably diminish their power even while enriching them in the short and medium term.

We can afford to be firm on the long term objectives. It is the Chinese leadership which occupies the low ground.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The current regime in Peking is quite possibly the most brutal that has ever existed. They will not hesitate to crush any opposition without mercy, as their actions regarding Falun Gong have shown. Their hold on power is very secure. For now.

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