Saturday, December 10, 2005

Turning Point?

The LA Times files its report on Dongzhou today. Much of the information is similar to the accounts posted below. But the story asks an essential question, the answer to which I believe will profoundly affect China's immediate future - and specifically, the future of the Hu/Wen administration and perhaps the CCP's continued monopoly on political power:
Residents said the police who opened fired Tuesday appeared to be from the area, but reinforcements sent later were outsiders equipped with armor, shields and machine guns. Experts said it was unclear whether local police had panicked and exceeded their authority, or whether there had been a policy shift by the central government.

"Part of the pattern is continued tension and inadequate central control over local governments," said Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights in China. "This doesn't take Beijing off the hook, but there are tensions between local police and other arms of government. It's not a monolith."

Jean-Philippe Beja, a senor fellow with the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research, said the central government usually opposes strong shows of force. But indications are that Beijing also gave more authority to local officials to deal with unrest after villagers in Taishi, also in Guangdong province, tried to eject a local official over corruption charges.
If this is yet another case of a corrupt, out-of-control local government that the central government has been unable to bring to heel, well, then Hu and Wen still have some time to make good on their promises of greater "social harmony" and bringing some economic justice to the rural masses who have been left behind by China's "Economic Miracle." But if this escalated use of deadly force comes as a result of a policy change by the central government...

Well, then Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen had better prepare themselves for a very bumpy ride. And perhaps a rather short ride as well.

No regime in China has been able to survive very long or very well if it loses the support of the peasant masses. By the Chinese government's own account, there were around 76,000 significant demonstrations in China last year, which if nothing else, indicates an increasingly desperate - and emboldened - population. There aren't enough police, there aren't enough soldiers, and empty promises have lost their power to pacify the millions of Chinese who have very little to lose, who are quickly adopting modern organizing tools and are able to communicate with others across distances who feel as they do.

Hu has made things worse for himself by cracking down on China's media, which could at least give honest reports on local problems about which the central government would otherwise be unaware (I know that there is some debate as to whether this crackdown is Hu's doing or the remnants of that bad old Shanghai clique, and I'll hold that possiblity open). Hamfisted, violent responses to poor people with legitimate grievances open the door to levels of chaos which China has not seen in a long time.

I can't say this scenario is something that I would celebrate, because the pain and misery which are likely to result would be staggering. And if the current regime were to collapse, what would rise in its place?

On a lighter (?) note (now that was a poor segue!), check out Richard's take-down of Xinhua's account of what happened at Dongzhou. Y'know, just a bunch of criminals and hooligans disturbing the social harmony again...

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