Beijing Leaders Feared Arab Spring Could Infect China

When protests broke out in the Arab world in 2010, leading to revolutions in some countries, Chinese leaders took note. Their concerns that rampant corruption and inequality could threaten the Party’s legitimacy is being tested now with the public airing of Bo Xilai’s downfall, Bloomberg reports:

Some members of China’s ruling Politburo, the reports reveal, began musing about whether bribery and other abuses of power were undermining the Communist Party’s authority at least 16 months before the corruption scandal surrounding deposed party leader Bo Xilai shined an international spotlight on the issue. The reports were described by five U.S. officials familiar with the contents who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence is classified.

As the Arab Spring revolts spread from Tunisia to Egypt and Libya after vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation on Dec. 17, 2010, the reports said, some Politburo members questioned whether protests might follow against Chinese provincial politicians demanding bribes; local party officials confiscating land; and products and government services rendered shoddy by influence peddling, the U.S. officials said.

Now, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who will arrive in Beijing this week to discuss such matters as North Korea and China’s currency, will find the country’s leaders preoccupied by the corruption scandal, a fugitive human rights activist, a leadership transition and slowing economic growth.

[...] The Chinese are watching a “soap opera” of murder and corruption surrounding Bo and his family, and they’re asking, “How could the system let someone like that emerge?” said Cheng Li, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution and a scholar of China’s leadership. “As people find corruption is out of control, the very legitimacy of China’s Communist Party is in jeopardy.”

Read more about how the so-called Jasmine Revolution played out in China, via CDT.