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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Is China as stable as it says it is?

December 3, 2009

By Sushil Seth, Taipei Times

Thursday, Dec 03, 2009, Page 8
One noticeable aspect about China these days is the cockiness and
arrogance of its rulers, which manifests itself both at home and abroad.
This has come with a new sense of entitlement about China?s central
place in global affairs.

US President Barack Obama?s visit to China last month, where he spent
more time than in any other country during his tour of the region,
helped confirm Beijing?s conviction about its ?manifest destiny? as the
new Middle Kingdom.

In China?s relationship with the outside world, this arrogance is
reflected at several levels.

At one level, a deeply rooted sense of historical humiliation at the
hand of Europeans and Japanese has created an exaggerated sense of
nationalism. As a result, Beijing requires constant confirmation of its
great power status and has a tendency to assert its sovereignty and
?territorial integrity.?

This is often used in reference to Taiwan, where China uses coercive
diplomacy on other countries to assert its position.

Beijing also uses coercive diplomacy to prevent other countries from
having any kinds of dealings with the Tibetan leader-in-exile the Dalai
Lama and Rebiya Kadeer, the leader of the Uighur community, also in exile.

In the cases of Tibet and Xinjiang, even though these regions are
already part of China and are recognized as such by the international
community (with some exceptions), Beijing remains paranoid.

The revived tensions along the Indo-Chinese border were in large part
related to New Delhi?s refusal to bow to pressure from Beijing not to
allow the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, a town on the border that houses a
major Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

In the same way, relations between China and Australia recently reached
a crisis point when Canberra granted a visa to Kadeer to attend the
premiere of a documentary about her life at the Melbourne International
Film Festival.

This is evidence that China?s perception of itself as a great power
involves a dangerous mix of national pride and paranoia, as highlighted
by a series of naval incidents in the South China Sea involving Chinese
ships and US Navy vessels.

Vice Admiral John Bird, commander of the Seventh Fleet, recently told
the Sydney Morning Herald that the jostling of a US ship in March by
Chinese vessels had been followed by other lesser incidents.

He said: ?I would like to believe China learnt from that, but to be
truthful, at any time they could do that again.?

?They have made it clear they consider the South China Sea to be more or
less theirs,? he said.

It is not difficult to imagine that such brinkmanship could get out of hand.

At home, the authorities are encouraging the view that the people should
be grateful to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for achieving economic
growth and bringing glory to the nation.

As such, whenever there is resistance to and criticism of the CCP?s
policies and authoritarian ways, the leadership reacts with intolerance
and repression.

When Hu Jintao became president, there was an expectation that the
political scene would be somewhat liberalized ? at least within the CPC.
But those hopes have since been dashed.

Many human rights activists and lawyers supporting their cause ?are
either in jail or have had their licenses removed,? said Mo Shaoping ,
one of the activist lawyers.

Fan Yafeng , another rights activist, has been sacked from the Academy
of Social Sciences.

?The Government has given up all political reforms. Their only aim is to
protect their own interests,? Fan says.

In his view, China is closer to its ?crisis point? than many people believe.

The government is targeting any group that has the potential of emerging
as an organized opposition to its rule.

A case in point is the crackdown on informal church groups ? also known
as ?house churches? ? that operate outside official control.

With China?s Christian population estimated at about 130 million people,
the government keeps a tight control on Church organizations.

Those ?house churches,? however, have resisted government control, which
has resulted in persecution, evictions and detention of some leaders.
Given their capacity to mobilize support inside and outside the country,
it is no surprise that the government sees them as a threat.

The explosion of ?black jails? to detain people petitioning the central
authorities against rampant injustice at the local level is another
example of increasing repression.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch wrote: ?Provincial and municipal
level officials have developed an extrajudicial system to intercept,
abduct, and detain petitioners in black jails.?

?Their emergence since 2003 constitutes one of the most serious and
widespread uses of extra-legal detention in China?s recent history,? it
said.

It is difficult to believe that the central leadership is not aware of
such illegal activities. Indeed, these jails have the hallmarks of dirty
work being outsourced by government agencies.

The government is so obsessed with managing the country?s image that it
refuses to see how bad things are.

Wherever one looks, the situation has the makings of a serious social
crisis. For instance, the abduction of children doesn?t seem to grab the
attention of the authorities to the same extent it would in a civilized
society.

Unemployment is rising, with 20 million losing their jobs following the
closure of many factories making goods for export. This puts additional
strain on an already depressed rural economy, as most of these
unemployed were rural migrants working in the urban industrial economy.

China?s economic stimulus package might show healthy economic growth
with inflated stock market indicators and property valuation, but they
are not doing much, if anything, to stimulate employment.

The social services sectors like health, education and welfare are
starved of funds.

The stimulus package was nothing more than a stopgap measure awaiting
the revival of the export sector ? which might not happen, at least not
for some years, because the US continues to have serious debt problems.

Commenting on the wastefulness of some of the stimulus spending, Zhang
Xin, an investment executive, said: ?In Pudong [Shanghai?s business
district], vacancy rates are as high as 50 percent and they are still
building new skyscrapers.?

Such wasteful spending on construction projects is contributing to
corruption, which is already a national disease.

Even the much hyped talk of a significant decline in poverty in China
has to be approached with caution, when 800 million farmers are not part
of the urban industrial economy.

Irene Khan of Amnesty International said that China?s alleged success in
alleviating poverty is overblown.

At the same time, China?s industrial and business sector are controlled
by party apparatchik in cahoots with their favored industrial and
business barons.

Therefore, the image of a prosperous China requires some serious
questioning. The country is a robber-baron economy working for the
powerful and operating in a moral vacuum.

As Xu Zhiyong , an activist, has said: ?If China reaches a crisis point
? it will be because of the accumulated rage from social injustices.?

This rage is frequently expressed through demonstrations in different
parts of the country, though it has yet to turn into an orchestrated,
nationwide movement, mostly because of extensive government surveillance
and exemplary punishments for those who stand out of line.

Most people have a sense of where that line is. For instance, any
advocacy of democracy, and questioning of the CCP?s monopoly on power,
can be regarded as treason because the party and the nation are one and
the same.

This is where the real danger lies, as built-up social rage can easily
be channeled into national hysteria over some perceived slight and/or
humiliation of China?s national pride and cause an international incident.

There is danger for the CCP as well, because the same organized hysteria
is also capable of being turned against the party if it fails to ensure
China?s imagined place in the world.

In the next decade or so, the Chinese leadership will have to maintain
social stability by turning people?s rage into chauvinist pride.

This will be a delicate operation, with unpredictable results for China
and the world.

Sushil Seth is a writer based in Australia.
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