Monday, August 01, 2005

Rural Unrest in China

A front page article addressing rural unrest in the People's Daily is a clear sign of concern. The Western media to their credit have picked it up. But the story sits oddly with the other news this morning, of new reassurances by the army that it is not "expansionist," coupled with more warnings to Taiwan; the opening of "strategic dialogue" with the United States; further attempts to arrive at a settlement of the North Korean issue, and the arrest of a top state enterprise official in Guangdong.

These stories show the fundamental problem faced by the unelected Chinese government, of lack of domestic support even at a time when it seems more successful than ever on the international front.

A few weeks ago the overseas Chinese newspapers were reporting that participation in unrest or demonstrations had risen from 70,000 perhaps a decade ago to more than 3,000,000 in recent years. Rioting followed a basketball game in Beijing recently. Two reasons lie behind this: first, there is more and more about which to be angry, and second, the people no longer fear the authorities as they did. Corruption, poverty, and vast income inequality are obvious to all, as is the arbitrariness of the government. Occasionally armed thugs are set on rural demonstrators, but payoffs and settlement are also common.The communists will remember their own foundation epic: how a government that did not serve the people was overthrown when the people rose up. That may not be exactly how it happened, but that is how they think it happened--and they don't want to take any chances.

Lack of mention of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao's ostensible greater concern for the ordinary people is striking. Instead we have a contradictory and harsh note: all of these obvious pathologies are in fact normal, a sign of healthy development, and don't dare protest.

My own hunch is that the army's influence is increasing, and although this manifesto is not issued in their name, it was they, and not the government, that reassured the world they were not expansionist--and threatened Taiwan. But I wonder whether, if it came to the crunch, the army will really support a government that crushed obviously justified protests by the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children of its own men? anw

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