Vail Valley Voices: Keys for a Chinese Spring
Vail, CO, Colorado
2011 was a turning point in recent history. It witnessed the demise of many Middle Eastern dictatorships and the passing of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jung Il.
Will China follow a similar pattern in 2012? Are its internal conditions ripe for an uprising?
Several dissimilarities exist between the Arab Spring and the possible circumstances leading to similar events in China. These include Arabic-Chinese cultural attitude differences regarding authority (a separate article) and a potential scenario’s catalysts.
Beijing’s economic success transpired at the expense of political-religious rights and high corruption, plus the environment. A Chinese Spring would most likely be led by university students, religiously linked individuals or political activists. Their primary demands might include augmented political freedoms and legal reforms, plus an enhancement of anti-corruption measures.
An academic-led uprising worries the Chinese Communist Party, since many students are Internet savvy. A Catholic Church-associated movement worries Beijing, considering there are several million Catholics who are potentially well-organized and victims of the party’s policies. Beijing is implementing an array of measures aimed at preventing a national movement. Deterring an uprising is arguably the Chinese Communist Party’s top domestic objective.
There are several political- and corruption-linked issues facing China’s domestic environment.
• Political: Many Chinese clamor for free elections and an independent judicial system. The latter, in particular, is seen as a means of adjudicating corruption cases. The party is resisting both demands for fear of losing power.
• Corruption: The two areas where corruption is most pervasive are developmental and environmental matters. Many victims contend that their complaints are ignored or disregarded by local authorities, developers and companies. The most common grievances are developers evicting citizens from their property without consultation and companies initiating industrial practices at the expense of public safety.
Two examples illustrate the problem: In the first, a solar-panel manufacturing plant in Zhejiang Province was accused of inadequately storing fluoride-laced waste. A heavy rainfall in late August 2011 in the company’s proximity caused the waste to spill into a local river. Environmental officials from the Chinese government discovered 10 times the level of fluoride existed in the river shortly thereafter. Five-hundred local residents protested the event, which resulted in severe damage to the firm’s offices.
A second instance occurred in June 2011, when a civilian detonated three bombs at two government facilities in Jiangxi Province.
The event transpired after he unsuccessfully spent a decade seeking compensation from local officials for being evicted from his dwelling by developers. Similar events have occurred in the Shandong, Sichuan, Heilongjiang and Shaanxi provinces.
At least 100,000 related incidents have transpired across China since 2000, according to Chinese authorities.
Beijing’s main worry is that separate organizations might merge into a national movement and directly challenge the Communist Party. As noted, the most likely individuals to instigate those events are university students, along with political or religious activists.
It’s a probable reason why Chinese-Vatican relations are very icy. The affiliation’s main controversy relates to clerical appointments. Beijing prohibits the Holy See from selecting its own bishops and archbishops from officiating in China, despite the Vatican’s objections. The Communist Party is probably concerned that Holy See-linked clerics may preach sermons challenging Beijing’s policies and prompt a movement similar to what resulted in the Polish government’s collapse in the 1980s. It’s an event Beijing is anxious to avoid.
The party is addressing its domestic problems via several methods. The first entails Internet regulations, plus arresting individuals perceived as challenging Beijing’s authority. The cyberspace measures involve restricting coverage of current events, including the Arab Spring, and prohibiting “netizens” from discussing related occurrences via social networking, micro-blogging sites, Facebook or Twitter.
The Communist Party also is banning freedom of speech or assembly.
Those steps were probably enhanced after Arab Spring-related protests transpired in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Local officials are simultaneously starting to pursue policies addressing protesters’ grievances, as occurred last year during incidents in the Wukan and Xilinhot areas.
Beijing is also initiating a public-relations campaign explaining the advantages of Communist Party rule vs. democracy. Whether those approaches prevent a national uprising from eventually occurring is a vital question.
Assessing the likelihood of a Chinese Spring is difficult. The People’s Liberation Army is the one player that may determine its success or failure. Another Tiananmen Square event may unfold, if the military follows a party mandate to restore order. An uprising could shake China, if the army’s officer or enlisted ranks ignore a directive to quell national protests.
A Chinese Spring would have global political and economic ramifications. It’s a scenario that cannot be discounted, especially considering a new generation of leaders will take the reins in Beijing later this year.
Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to email@example.com.
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