Sunday, May 11, 2008

United by force

Times of India: 12 May 2008, 0044 hrs IST,Shobhan Saxena

Many Chinese bloggers are a bit confused about what's happening in their country. Even as the Tibet issue rages on, the Uighurs revolt in Xinjiang and the ghost of Tiananmen comes back to haunt Beijing, the "patriotic" bloggers are wondering what's the fuss all about. Behind the veil of glitzy malls and shining roads of Shanghai, Beijing and some other showcase cities on its coast, China's rotting core has been on a boil for some time.

In small towns and villages, riots are a common scene now. And the government deals with the riots in the only way it knows to deal with social unrest: crackdown. In 2007, according to Chinese government figures, there were 87,000 "riots" in China. A riot in China could mean anything from an attack by people on police and local communist officials to protest rallies against pollution, corruption and poverty.

As China tom-toms its double-digit economic miracle, it fails to hide the fact that close to one billion people have been left behind to languish in poverty. Since most of the poor live in the rural areas, most of the riots have taken place in the countryside. Raging over loss of their land to big industries and builders, growing pollution, increasing poverty, widening income gap, bad hospitals, and misuse of public money by communist officials, the rural folk now regularly come out to protest, often taking out their anger on police and party officials.

Growing social unrest is the single biggest challenge to the Communist Party officials. And, unlike the bloggers, China's communist bosses know that they have a serious problem to deal with. With the inflation-propelled mass protests of 1989 - just before the Tiananmen demonstrations - still fresh on their minds, the Chinese leaders don't like the sight of people raising slogans against the government. It makes them nervous.

A bunch of agitated monks makes them panic. Even a handful of Falun Gong followers doing breathing exercises in a public park make them see red. It's ironic that in a country where everything from buildings to army to newspapers is named after people, just the idea of people united for a cause scares the hell out of the government of the People's Republic.

The only thing China really cares about is stability and it maintains its fragile unity with force. As soon as trouble erupted in Tibet, the communist officials denounced the Dalai Lama as "an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast". The protesters of Xinjiang have already been dubbed as terrorists. This is the language of the Cultural Revolution.

The bloggers of China may blast the West for "humiliating" China, but, in fact, the western leadership is hoping that the rise of capitalism may give birth to liberal democracy in China. It's perhaps a misplaced hope. As clearly stated by China's top leaders, western-style democracy is not on their agenda, not at least for next 100 years. According to them, China is already a democracy and the West should stop interfering in its "internal affairs".

Made wise by the demise of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party is on the track of authoritarian capitalism - market economy minus liberal democracy. It has already created a base of 150 million people who love this model.

The new rulers of China - 6 per cent of the population - are having a ball of a time as they control capital of more than $1.4 trillion or 33 per cent of GDP. This class is more interested in voting for contestants in reality-TV shows than for candidates in real elections. They clamour for pop stars, not politicians.

This is good news for the party bosses who have found a lot of admirers around the world, particularly in Russia, the Middle East, Africa and West Bengal, where China's authoritarian capitalism is being seen as an alternative to US-style capitalism.

The bad news is that the have-nots of China are now coming out in the open to spoil the party. And, since they are sitting on a very small base, the party godfathers are really scared of the people on the streets.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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