Despite crackdown, China faces ‘real risk of social disorder’



As an old-style Leninist party in a modern world, China’s ruling Communist party is confronted by two major challenges, notes Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York: first, how to maintain “ideological discipline” among its almost 89 million members in a globalized world awash with money, international travel, electronically transmitted information, and heretical ideas. Second, how to cleanse itself of its chronic corruption, a blight that Xi has himself described as “a matter of life and death,” he writes for The New York Review of Books:

The primary reason the Party is so susceptible to graft is that while officials are poorly paid, they do control valuable national assets. So, for example, when property development deals come together involving real estate (all land belongs to the government) and banking (all the major banks also belong to the government), officials vetting the deals find themselves in tempting positions to supplement their paltry salaries by accepting bribes or covertly raking off a percentage of the action. Since success without corruption in China is almost a non sequitur, officials and businessmen (and heads of state-owned enterprises are both) are all easily touched by what Chinese call “original sin” (yuanzui), namely, some acquaintance with corruption.

A letter from party dissidents calling for President Xi Jinping to resign has widened the rift between the regime and journalists, The FT adds:             

At stake is a delicate compromise reached in the post-Mao reform period, where the press has carved out a carefully circumscribed niche for dissent. That space has given Beijing what one expert refers to as a “steam valve” — a way for public debate to be held without growing out of control.

“It’s quite evident that ideology is being rolled back,” says Qiao Mu, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “This change appears in the form of media control and intimidation of journalists. But fundamentally it’s the politics that is changing.”

The party’s heavy-handed reaction to both cases made clear the insecurities of the regime. “Those were two highly symbolic events that challenged Xi’s ruling status,” says Xiao Qiang (left), an expert on Chinese media at the University of California at Berkeley:

However, the crackdown is colliding with a society which has tasted openness, says Mr Xiao. Increased commercial pressures on the media and the internet, despite being heavily censored, have pushed the boundaries of party control. “[Xi] has been trying to reverse the trend that Chinese official media have more and more voices and that some media personnel are pushing for political reform beyond the party’s tolerance,” he says.

What has been perhaps most unexpected about this trend is the way that Beijing has begun to extend its claim to control people and organizations beyond its borders, notes Orville Schell,  the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. Despite its stubborn defense of the sanctity of sovereignty, its agents have begun reaching overseas to manipulate the foreign dialogue by setting up hundreds of Confucius Institutes, newspapers, magazines, and even TV networks that answer to the Central Propaganda Department and the C.C.P., adds Schell (left):

The Chinese government is also denying visas to “unfriendly” (buyouhao) foreign journalists and scholars; blocking foreign websites with which it disagrees; demanding that public figures like the Dalai Lama, Hong Kong activists, or Chinese dissidents be refused foreign platforms; threatening the advertising bases of overseas media outlets that challenge its positions; and now even abducting foreign nationals abroad and “renditioning” them back to China where it forces them into making televised confessions. It is hardly surprising that Chinese have started whispering about a new “climate of fear” (kongbu de qifen), what Eva Pils of King’s College London School of Law calls “rule by fear.”

“[W[e know there are a lot of people who are dissatisfied, but they’re afraid to do anything,” says Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “But if they see a split in the leadership, which is what people saw back in 1989, when they view that split in the leadership, there is a real risk of social disorder in China.”

China’s slowing economy has led to an increase in worker strikes, disputes, and protests, as has been documented by many, including the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin and the Supreme People’s Court of China, notes China Digital Times (a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy). For CNN, James Griffiths has produced a multimedia overview of the current situation for workers in China, looking at the both causes of increased protests and government efforts to limit their impact on a national basis, including censorship and tightening controls over civil society groups.

The American Bar Association should stand with the Chinese people, and support rule of law, in keeping with its values as expressed in its mission — values drawn from the bedrock of American democracy, Chen Guangcheng writes for The Washington Post.

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