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Terence Shen's Column

Why the Egyptian Revolt Won’t Happen in China


The stepping down of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been regarded as a victory of democracy and freedom, and a process which can be adopted in other countries. Unfortunately, it will not be the case in China.


As a large, populous country in North Africa, Egypt is one of the most important stakeholders and a key stabilizer in Middle Eastern affairs. Just recently, a democratic movement swept the nation and the unleashed people’s wrath toward an unscrupulous government. The tussle between strongman President Hosin Mubarak and the dissident masses has been observed by the whole world through the media. The situation has grown worse over time and the Egyptian state now is on the verge of collapse. The democratic demonstrations taking over Cairo’s Tahrir Square are reminiscent of what happened in Beijing’s Tiananmen square in the summer of 1989. However, the demands for democracy and liberty made by Chinese students were too abstract, and without a practical timetable. Since the differences between the two crises are many, it hard to say that Egypt will follow the same path as China. The democratic movement in 1989 was squashed by one of biggest atrocities of the late 20 century.

Since the Tiananmen massacre (some people tend to use the word “incident” instead), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has decided to make “social stability” the foremost task of the governmental agenda. In 2009 alone, the government’s expenses on public security surprisingly exceeded military expenses, by up to 514 billion yuan. This amount includes the expenses on hiring secret agents to wiretap dissident writers or environment activists or simply put them under house arrest. The unrest in Tunisia and Egypt has taught CCP that social unrest is really hard to quell once it breaks out, in the light of the social power of worldwide media. Today, if you try to demonstrate or hold a big sign (no matter what is written on it) on Tiananmen square, you will find yourself surrounded by secretive plain-clothed police and get arrested immediately. The citizens’ gathering which could lead to a conspiratorial insurgency to overthrow the government is what the CCP is the most afraid of, even though they know that there is no independent political and social force strong enough to challenge the dominant party.

The Chinese government is extremely sensitive to any potential challenges, and has implemented a strategy of “kill it when it is still at early stage, kill it when it is still small, and kill it if it has potential” (zhuazao, zhuaxiao, zhuamiaotou). That well explains why TV news footage showing Egyptians protesting and marching in the streets has been blocked by CCTV, which is China’s monopolistic state media. Chinese media are controlled by the government and are allowed to broadcast on Tunisian and Egyptian crisis only by focusing on the turbulence that the protests have caused, rather than the causes of such protests.

I believe that in the near future, China’s market economy will be able to keep providing enough employment opportunities, and the income disparity in the country will not be widening too fast to an irreconcilable level. The corruption and social unrest remain the major problems in governance, but huge investment in public security and world’s No 1 foreign currency reserve will guarantee that incumbent communist leaders can sleep comfortably every night.

Terence Qiming Shen (沈達明)
February 13, 2011 Hong Kong

Published on Asia Times

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