Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Tiananmen Massacre: Lest We Forget

The Tiananmen massacre occurred 25 years ago today. Sad to recall how close China then was to becoming a working Asian-style democracy.

The years since have been about using economic prosperity to keep the Chinese Communist Party firmly in control of all political power. No wonder, as the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Mozur writes, Tiananmen “is a memory the Communist Party works hard to suppress in the public sphere,” as on the 25th anniversary, it insures that dozens of activists are "detained, disappeared or summoned."

China is additionally limiting access to key foreign websites based outside the country.  Mozur reports that Google’s services are currently only intermittently accessible in China, and quotes a Google spokesman saying, "We've checked extensively and there are no technical problems on our side."

Mozur adds that Google’s troubles in China coincide with a similar block of Mozur’s own Wall Street Journal English and Chinese websites. A Dow Jones spokeswoman (Dow publishes the Journal) confirmed the Chinese site had been blocked since Saturday and the English-language site since Monday, but “declined to elaborate.”

According to Mozur, China’s:
Internet censors have taken a more aggressive approach since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Over the past year, the government has cracked down on online commentators, formed a high-level committee to address Internet security, and [revoked] online-publication and distribution licenses.
So where are the prospects for Chinese democracy headed? American conservative political analyst Michael Barone was intrigued to learn that
In 2013, leading members of the Politburo recommended that underlings read Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution. It's an intriguing choice. Tocqueville, reflecting on the Revolution that killed his fellow [French] aristocrats and family members, argued that the revolution came only when the old regime began reform and conditions improved -- the revolution of rising expectations. And he argued that the Revolution was largely destructive, increasing the centralization of the royalist regime. "The old order provided the Revolution with many of its methods; all the Revolution added to these was a savagery peculiar to itself."
As Barone pointed out, the relevance of Tocqueville's book to China seems obvious. The Chinese leadership, like the French aristocrats before them,
no longer believe in their own ideology, but cling to power. The Chinese people have come to expect rapidly rising living standards, and may abandon the regime if it doesn't produce. But rising living standards may also undermine the regime. Regime elites must be careful, like Deng [was after Tiananmen] in 1989, or the rulers will lose everything and chaos will be unleashed on China.
Barone also found that China's rulers are
circulating a six-part TV documentary blaming the collapse of the Soviet Union on Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and softness. Message: avoid democracy or political freedom. All this, writes the Wall Street Journal's Jeremy Page, is "part of an ideological campaign launched by [President] Xi Jinping, to reenergize the party and enforce discipline among its members."
The fear that secondary reforms will trigger an end to one-party rule is pervasive in China reporting today. Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times (U.K.), tells us:
The instinct of the People’s Bank [of China] that capital account liberalisation could be a battering ram for reform is correct. Moreover, such a reform would not be merely financial and economic. It would also be political. If China’s capital account were to be fully liberalised, the government would lose its grip on the most effective of all its economic levers.
Wolf evidently wants the Chinese regime to retain its grip on power, because he cautions, “Whatever the attractions of speed, this process has to be carefully managed. For China and the world, the risks are too big to approach this in any other way.”

Whatever turn the economy takes, it’s obvious that 25 years later, Chinese leaders are still “riding the tiger.”

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