A testing time for the China model


Perhaps because they are often poorly run, hotlines do not seem to be making local governments any more popular. These form the most despised tier of authority in China: many of the most egregious face-to-face abuses of power take place locally, The Economist reports. But it is possible that there would have been even more protests without the safety-valve of hotlines, it adds:

State media say one of their roles is to help with “stability maintenance” by alerting officials to potential flashpoints. Many public protests relate to bread-and-butter issues, such as the ones a local newspaper said were most frequently raised by callers to the 12345 hotline in Nanjing, a southern city: the management of apartment blocks, the water supply, illegal construction, violations of consumer rights and shoddily built housing.

Chinese labor unrest extended its footprint last year as workforce tensions that have long beset the manufacturing and construction industries began to hit the fast-growing sectors on which Beijing has pinned its hopes for future growth, The Financial Times reports:

While the 2,663 strikes and protests recorded in 2016 by China Labour Bulletin marked a fall of 112 on the previous year, the total was still almost double that of 2014, with the spread to new sectors partly offsetting a drop in manufacturing unrest.

“The new economy is rife with the old labor problems of the past,” said Keegan Elmer, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based workers’ rights organization….The true level of Chinese labor unrest is likely to be much higher. CLB’s tally is comprised largely of online reports of worker action about which the group can confirm basic details, and Mr Elmer estimates it accounts for just 10 per cent of the real total in light of far bigger but unverified numbers produced by Chinese activists or sporadically made public by the government.

The ‘China model’ of economic growth has been essentially a story of a hyper-charged economy led by an authoritarian state. But now the model has become unsustainable, with China experiencing economic slowdown as well as rampant corruption, growing inequality and environmental destruction, the University of Denver’s Suisheng Zhao writes for the East Asia Forum:

[E]conomic growth has come with significant costs, including excessive human casualties, environment pollution and overcapacity as well as income disparity and moral disintegration. These costs have seen China enter a period of deepening social tension, marked by unrest and protests. With China’s economic growth now decelerating, Chinese leaders are increasingly fearful of China descending into chaos.

Suisheng Zhao is Professor and Director of the Center for China–US Cooperation at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver and Editor of the Journal of Contemporary China.

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