Monday, April 25, 2005

Riding the Tiger

骑虎难下 - "Qi hu nan xia" - one of my favorite Chinese sayings. "When you mount the tiger, it's hard to climb down." You've made the decision to saddle a dangerous beast, and now you're in it for the ride...

Great article in the LA Times today about the Chinese government's calculated risk to allow and perhaps encourage the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations. In fact, as journalist Mark Magnier points out, the Chinese government has since 1998 had a policy of allowing protests - up to a point:
Since the late 1990s, China's response to unrest has undergone a strategic shift, partly because of the increase in protests, said Murray Scot Tanner, a China security specialist at the Rand Corp.

Chinese government statistics show there were 58,000 protests across the country in 2003, or 158 a day, as tensions have increased over corruption, land grabs and other problems on China's road from a planned to a market economy.

Beijing's focus before 1998 was generally on stopping protests at all costs, Tanner said. Now the emphasis is increasingly on learning about disturbances in advance, isolating the leadership from the rank and file, buying people off, preventing onlookers from joining and avoiding heavy-handed violence that might enrage the crowd.
BUT...and this is the big "but":
Such tactics can be dangerous for the government, calling into question whether authorities can turn off the tap once people get a taste of empowerment. In one recent case, workers in a Japanese-run factory reportedly joined a protest, then asked for an independent labor union, which Beijing forbids.

"When Chinese start to feel such emotion, there's a fear this could backfire against the government itself and get out of control," said Zhu Feng, a regional security expert with Peking University. "The government is scared of these long-simmering sentiments."
With the increasing penetration of the Internet, cellphones and text messaging, protests can be organized in practically no time, with little effort (see post below for more on this issue).

All of which adds up to one big hungry tiger...

No comments: