China Mulls Impact of Mideast Uprisings

With an apparent revolution underway in Egypt and potentially elsewhere in the Middle East, some observers are questioning how worried China’s leaders should be about their own job security. From the Washington Post:

A Chinese blogger first posed the query to President Obama’s chief Asia expert during a videoconference from the White House Situation Room with eight Mainland bloggers.

“In my view, many Chinese netizens and intellectuals believe that China’s future is Tunisia-ization,” noted the Beijing-based blogger, 2Keqi, in the web chat with Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs. “Does the American government make this same assessment and does it have a policy plan” in the event that China takes such a turbulent path?

Bader and another official, Ben Rhodes, deputy NSC adviser for strategic communications, declined to answer directly, instead repeating the administration’s oft-stated position about the importance of human rights and the need to let people “realize their own aspirations.”

The question came up again last Friday at the White House press briefing, posed to press secretary Robert Gibbs – who similarly declined to engage.

But at a time when many Americans have come to view China – with its double-digit economic growth and huge investments in infrastructure and energy technologies – in terms of the challenges it poses to the United States’ position as the world’s pre-eminent economic power, many here see the country’s closed political system as unsustainable and a key vulnerability restricting its leaders’ grand ambition.

Evan Osnos, who lived in Cairo before his current post in Beijing, also broaches the topic on his New Yorker blog:

Should the Chinese regime be worried that the next Tahrir Square may be Tiananmen Square? My experience in both places tells me that the answer is no. I had an apartment in Cairo for two years before I moved to China in 2005, and I happened to be back in Egypt a year ago for vacation. Trying to pinpoint the level of discontent in a society is a difficult exercise. (Trying to measure contentment is no easier; when P.R. firm Edelman produced a poll suggesting that eighty-eight per cent of the Chinese people “trust” their government, even a strictly regulated Chinese newspaper couldn’t let that go unexamined, and it promptly poked holes in the findings.) But, in Egypt, frustration and rage always lay just beneath the surface. Until last week the dominant national characteristic was sclerosis. It was a nation in suspended animation, with an infrastructure, economy, and leadership that had not measurably improved in more than thirty years. For all of China’s problems these days, the simple fact is that the dominant sensation in China is the polar opposite of that in Egypt: China is a place of constant, dizzying, churning change. The results are hardly distributed equally, by any means, and a slice of the population has benefited unfairly through corruption and injustice. But, at the obvious risk of oversimplification, the lives of average Chinese citizens continue to improve fast enough that they see no reason to upturn the system.

So should the Chinese regime rest easy as long as the economy improves? Not exactly. As Fareed Zakaria rightly points out, Egypt and Tunisia were vulnerable to unrest not because their economies were ailing, but precisely because their economies had improved in recent years, which only accentuated how far the economic gains were outpacing political liberalization.

A post by Christina Larson on the Foreign Policy blog, titled, “Could China be next? No,” answers the question more definitively.

Not surprisingly, Xinhua reports that Beijing hopes Egypt will restore order “at an early date.” And the Global Times (English) argues that color revolutions do not really create democracy.

Nicholas Kristof, who covered the Tiananmen Square protests for the New York Times, is now in Egypt and is tweeting his observations.

January 31, 2011 11:03 AM
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