China Yields to Protests when Stability Matters

In his column for CNN, Jaime FlorCruz writes about why the Chinese government tolerates some protests while harshly cracking down on others:

In recent years, local officials in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have given in to public pressure — street demonstrations, silent “strolls” and online campaigns — on controversial issues. In some cases, government planners had to abandon plans to build chemical plants and waste incinerators when residents expressed concerns over environmental and health hazards.

The gentle handling of these potentially explosive mass actions contrasts starkly to the harsh crackdown on political dissent. Over the past several weeks, Chinese police have rounded up scores of political activists, lawyers and bloggers, including Ai Weiwei, a prominent artist and political activist.

“Stability trumps everything,” a Communist Party official told me. (He declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the matter.) “We cannot be wishy-washy and just leave matters to chance.”

So what is behind the kid’s-glove approach to such mass actions like the Shanghai truckers’ strike?

“They are challenges to specific issues rather than ideologically driven, cross-regional organized events,” said David Zweig, political science professor at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong. “They are citizens’ protests, not political actions aimed at changing the regime or forcing political reform on the regime.”

See a similar argument from Minxin Pei.

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