Monday, February 25, 2013

A Spring Not Sprung. Yet.

It has been roughly two years since the onset of the Arab Spring. For many months after the initial tumultuous events, many observers feared contagion into Asia, most worryingly, China. Thankfully, however, sudden and violent revolution did not take place in the largest country on Earth. Disorderly disintegration would have led to dire consequences for the Asia region and beyond.
It is clear why such contagion fears arose. Similarities between China and the Middle East abound. Autocratic self-rule that does not reflect the will of the people? Check. Rising wealth gaps far beyond what is considered healthy? Check. High youth unemployment and discontent? Check - more than people think in China. Rampant official corruption on par with other failed states? Check. A closed official media, yet one with a flourishing social and micro-blogging network underbelly? Check.
So why not China? As laid out in this insightful essay in The Diplomat magazine, the country has had its share of protest movements - 180,000 in 2010 alone, by one estimate. However, the sheer size and diversity of the country may have been a key saving grace, at least to date. A country as complex as China cannot be governed centrally. Rather, much authority must be (and has been) delegated down to the regional and local levels in order for an enormous nation state to survive over the long run. As a consequence, China’s protests have largely occurred at local levels and against corrupt, low-ranking officials engaging in nefarious acts such as land grabs. Protests on the national scale have been deemed too complicated to organize as well as unlikely to remedy injustices quickly. And local shows of discontent In recent years have indeed occasionally resulted in changes to local leadership. The case of Bo Xilai in Chongqing is one of the most prominent and recent examples.
This is not to say that the central government is unassailably removed from danger. A country’s citizens generally recognize that morality and good leadership flow downward from the fountainhead at the top. And the new regime under Xi Jinping seems to understand the risk of not addressing corruption and wealth disparity in a timely manner, especially if another global economic slowdown throws more angry young Chinese onto the streets. If China wants a fertile spring and long growing seasons to follow, tending to the fields while the season is young is imperative.

1 comment:

  1. Philip, I completely agree that there is a need for reform in countries like China. I guess, much has to be done in Asian countries too were most nations are separated by regions, bodies of water, and high lands. While protest can get the authorities attention, it may not awaken them in the level that we expect.