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The Winter of Chinese Discontent

The Communist authorities appear to be determined to crack down on all dissent. Given the current state of China, it is probably like trying to stop the tide.  (Image:   Robert Moposang via  flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0)
The Communist authorities appear to be determined to crack down on all dissent. Given the current state of China, it is probably like trying to stop the tide. (Image: Robert Moposang via flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0)

As the world focuses on the current crisis in the Middle East, the Communist Party in China (CCP) has again illustrated its incompetence. Last week Chinese authorities’ sentenced Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers and an advocate for internal change in the CCP, to a three year suspended sentence over a series of tweets.

Demonstrating the decision making of a despotic power desperate to maintain its grip on power, the Communist authorities appear to be determined to crack down on all dissent. Given the current state of China, it is probably like trying to stop the tide.

No legitimacy

In recent months the Chinese Communist Party has lurched from one crisis to another, constantly under pressure to demonstrate its ability to govern. The current leaders’ mismanagement of the economy this year has created potential conditions for a financial collapse in China.

With the recent exposure of high level government corruption (one state official had amassed 30 billion dollars) and the CCP’s inability to allow any accountable recourse, the public’s trust in the CCP’s management has eroded.

Coupled then with constant failure to ensure public safety is the inability of the government to deal with the environmental disaster that is unfolding in China. Air pollution in the northern cities like Beijing is 20 times worse than what the World Health Organisation deems safe.

At present the levels of PM2.5, the finest and most dangerous particles of pollution due to their ability to be stuck inside the respiratory system, in Beijing was at 331ppm (particles per million), safe levels are 50-100ppm.

The most recent Red Alerts in Beijing have only highlighted what people have known for months, that China’s environment is a ticking time bomb. The situation is so bad that in Beijing many people have resorted to buying clean air from overseas. Parents of inner Beijing city school children are fighting to allow the government to let them buy air purifiers for the cities many schools.

Furthermore, with industrial pollution in the rivers also so rampant that potable water supplies are now undrinkable. Ten percent of all farmland is unsafe for crop cultivation, and the crisis is only going to get worse. As a result of this many of the younger generations are now openly questioning the legitimacy of the CCP to run the country.

Has China outgrown the CCP?

Whilst China’s growth, economically and socially, has been massive, like many countries that have a dictatorial regime, the Communist Party has not been able to develop along with these changes. At present the CCP sits like a pimple on top of a seething mass of corruption, red tape, and bureaucracy that represents the state.

It takes years for practical decisions to be made and new ideas are constantly pushed to the margins, as the regime seeks to maintain its power instead of looking after its citizens.

Consequently many netizens are releasing their frustrations with the CCP via the Internet. Making fun of the government in obscure ways on social media forums has become a rite of passage for many of the younger generations, who feel empowered to freely criticize the government in blogs, tweets, and social networking sites.

As Larry Diamond explained in his recent article entitled, Liberation Technology in the Journal of Democracy:

Democracy needed

While this social discontent bubbles along beneath the surface of Chinese society, the state and society are becoming more detached from one another. According to economist David Dollar, countries that industrialize quickly into what he identifies as a middle–income country, which China now is, often find themselves entering this phase where the government and the economy stagnate.

To move forward these countries need to undergo a transition to become democracies with strong civil liberties and independent judiciaries. If China is to move forward and solve its increasing social discontent it cannot just rely on repression. It needs to transition away from the dictatorial party and towards democracy.

Dr. Victoria Kelly-Clark received her doctorate in political science and international relations from the Australian National University. She has lived in Central Asia and specializes in Russia and its former Soviet territories. For more information, go to Central Asia and Beyond.

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