Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nobody Does It Better (Than China)

Anyone who would be foolish enough to draw parallels between the "pro-democracy" rebellions in Egypt and China is making the mistake of thinking that the repressive regimes running those two benighted countries are equally vulnerable to a successful revolution. Most repressive regimes, Egypt among them, are generally old-school and unprepared for modern dissent.

Hosni Mubarak seems to have been caught flat-footed, unaware of the growing anti-government movement in his country. Like dictators of old, he didn't know whom he could trust, he didn't prepare for the onslaught, and his intelligence agencies dropped the ball by missing the great organizational tool of this "spontaneous" revolt--the Internet. There was a great deal of reaction but very little planning by the Egyptian government in advance of the big demonstrations.

The Chinese government is much more media savvy, and watches the Internet like a hawk. Where it has not succeeded in suppressing anti-government net traffic, it has been fully aware of it, and made plans months in advance for any possible attempt at revolution. What the people attempting to dislodge the dictators knew, the government knew. And when it was time for the protesters to act, the troops were ready to quell. The dictators didn't want a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Bad for the public image, bad for business as usual. So the dictators made sure they knew everything they needed to know about the plans of the protesters before the protesters could assemble in large numbers in very public places.

Naifs were touting the "Jasmine Revolution" that would take down the Chinese Government and bring true democracy to the Great Oppressor. Fat chance. American Internet users assumed that the Chinese mandarins were as unaware of the web chatter as Mubarak's regime was in Egypt. Fatal error. Encouraged by the seeming success of the Middle East Internet-fueled revolts, Chinese dissidents began a huge web campaign to stage massive protests in Beijing and other major Chinese cities. The protests were supposed to burst on the scene this past weekend.

Chinese dictators learn from their mistakes. Having read every Internet transmission, deciphered every plan, singled-out all the potential leaders, and knowing the proposed locations of the protests, the Red Guard sprang into action. Why wait for an embarrassing slaughter of civilians in large numbers and in highly public places when you can knock off the opposition early and in much less visible ways? There would be no repeat of Tiananmen Square. Why bother?

Suddenly, there were mass arrests of dozens of anti-government human rights activists. Those few activists who did manage to gather enough numbers to stage any kind of protest were quickly rounded up amidst the occasional beatings. The problem is that in the Internet Age, spontaneous demonstrations actually have to be spontaneous, as well as successfully clandestine. Organizing via the Internet may have worked in Egypt, but it ain't gonna work in China.

It didn't help that the calls for protests largely originated on Chinese language sites in America. The government knew in advance the thirteen cities which would be targeted, where the protesters would gather and even the slogans that would be used by the anti-government crowds. Police and army troops showed up at the sites before any meaningful protests could even begin. The Jasmine Revolution quickly became the Jasmine Fiasco.

Still, even the attempt shows that there is a large and growing population fed up with government repression and corruption. Despite its public face of new wealth and strides forward, the simple fact is that China is rushing into the 21st Century on the backs of its masses. Modernization is everywhere, and if a few hundred thousand Chinese who got in the way of progress have to die, well, that's life. China has millions of truly homeless people, many displaced by those immense government building projects. At the same time, the government has built "show cities" of the future in which nobody lives and probably never will. Potemkin villages on steroids.

And even though the Chinese dictators skillfully monitored the Internet to shut down the potential revolution, that won't be the end of it. It is extremely difficult to entirely shut down news from the West, pro-democracy Internet posts and the transmission of the message of freedom in the ether and the cloud. As fast as China shuts down a dissident voice, two more spring up in its place. So the tech-savvy dictators may be able to fend off an organized protest poorly-disguised on the Internet, but it cannot entirely shut down the information that could lead to a truly spontaneous revolt throughout the evil empire.

As I've quoted before, "no army is as powerful as an idea whose time has come." That idea is freedom, and though the government may continue to have the ability to shut down Internet-organized protests, it can't entirely shut down the ideas transmitted on the Internet that fuel protests. And if those protests take place on a large scale in very visible places, the government may lose control of its ability to fend off a revolution by using Internet plans against themselves.

Still, for the time being, let's be cautious about the true motivation behind the revolts in the Middle East and wary of optimism about the same thing happening in China any time soon.


Tennessee Jed said...

nice post, Hawk. Yes, it is hard to overestimate the oppressiveness of the Chinese government. And yes, I agree we need to closely monitor the real reasons behind the events in the middle east.

LL said...

China learned from the Tiananmen Square 'revolution'. One remedy they put in place was to garrison company size PLA units throughout Beijing. They also beefed up the People's Armed Police (Internal Security Troops, not the police or the PLA) and spread them around the in cantonments inside the larger cities. Unless you walk neighborhoods, you'd never see them. They also increased the non-uniformed numbers in the People's Armed Police and in the Police (public security) that are tracking the mood of the public.

Though I hear bloggers ranting on how China will take out the US, the truth is that China has vast problems that dwarf ours. It's true that they hold our Treasury notes and many billions in currency, but their internal situation is anything but stable and secure.

It's a one-party capitalist system. You can call it "communist" since they do, but there's not all that much communal in how things actually work in China these days. There is vast resentment of Beijing outside of the fourth (soon to be fifth) ring road.

The leadership in Beijing are like the masters of a slave ship whose dreams are filled with the pitter-patter of native footsteps on the deck above them. It's not all unicorns and flowers for them.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I just recoil at every mention of China as an "ally" or a "trading partner." It's a dictatorial regime, it's violent, and it's repressive. With friends like that, who needs enemies? They may be more proficient and subtler than other repressive regimes such as Libya or Bahrain, but they're also more sophisticated at nipping democratic sentiment in the bud.

In the Middle East, it's likely there will be the replacement of repressive regimes with different repressive regimes. Islam is not exactly friendly toward secular democracy. The only thing that will ultimately emerge is the name of the new tyrant. As the Who said, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Given the complete disregard for solid intelligence and support for legitimate freedom movements coming out of the White House, we will get fooled again.

Unknown said...

LL: As I alluded in the article, this won't be easy and likely won't happen any time soon, but I think it will happen. The type of economic system in place in China is often referred to as "state capitalism." That's another way of saying "fascist," but you won't hear that from the MSM because they won't admit the direct connection between socialism and fascism.

Game Master Rob Adams said...

Good food for thought.

Unknown said...

ACG: I just hope we don't choke on it.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, to draw on my vast stores of knowledge as a history student (snort!), the past couple months in general seem to me to mirror in a lot of ways the European revolutions of the 19th century--say, 1830, or even 1848. In those cases you had revolution jumping from country to country, general awareness among the protestors of events elsewhere, and an old order that was generally caught napping, at least early on, and for the most part acted ineffectually, whether from lethargy or panic. Of course, both those periods of revolution ended in a continent-wide wave of reaction, so if the model holds up (which it very well may not), and China is any indication, we may soon see a return to authoritarianism throughout the Middle East. Wouldn't be the same people as before, but some kind of clampdown is a high probability.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: I think you have your historical parallels in very good shape. I see the main difference as being the European genuine disgust with monarchical tyranny and a lack of consideration for the people, where in the Middle East the disgust is limited to the current tyrant and a willingness to replace a repressive dictatorship with a repressive theological oligarchy. The talk of democracy in the Middle East amounts to the oft-quoted "one man, one vote, one time."

The "people" of the Middle East largely haven't moved on much beyond the day Mohammed emerged from his cave with the solution for all the world's problems. The Chinese democratic movement on the other hand is very 21st century, and a genuine modern sleeping giant.

LL said...

One day China will balkanize. Shanghai will become the nation-state of Shanghai, Muslim East China will become its own nation as will Southern China. Each have their own sources of internal income separate from Great China and each have their own axe to grind. At present the PLA is the glue that holds the unwieldy machine together.

I don't know when, but that is how it will go down. Each of the 'little Chinas' will cooperate with the other when that day happens. They'll still be Chinese. But communism and national socialism will be eliminated.

Unknown said...

LL: Out of many scenarios for the future of China, that one sounds really likely. Nobody of any public note really foresaw or predicted the quick fall of the Soviet Union and its breakup into smaller nations. Except, perhaps, Reagan himself. But that's exactly what happened. I think that even today, after that historical lesson, there are many who would say to you about China "that can't happen." I'm not one of them. And even as a non-fan of Richard Gere, I'll still be happy to see Tibet finally freed, or at least somewhat autonomous.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, that's true, although I wouldn't heap too much praise on the European revolutionaries. Most of the democratic governments they sat up got pretty dictatorial before long, too.

I do want to say this about Libya, though: unlike with Egypt, I am definitely on the side of the rebels. There's a good chance the country will fall apart without Gaddafi, and simply by virtue of being the Middle East, the danger of an Islamic theocracy being set up always has to be kept in mind. But, I don't think those concerns merit any sympathy for the thug (and I'm not addressing anyone here in particular; I'm thinking of a few conservatives elsewhere who have implied such an attitude). Being conservatives, we're naturally concerned about preserving order along with liberty, as we should. It would be irrational (and left-wing) of us to shout for a dictator's removal without considering the consequences. But at the end of the day, Gaddafi has made it clear he will slaughter his own people to stay in power. This isn't a man who is sacrificing liberty for order; it's a man who's sacrificing both for the sake of holding on to his power. We have to be wary of what will come next, but Libyans have a right to life just like the rest of us. And if that right is being violated in the most violent way possible, then I say, despite the future potential costs, he needs to go.

Okay, that's all. Just trying to thrash out this problem we're seeing with stability on the one hand, and basic human rights on the other.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: No dispute here. Europe at least had the Enlightenment to learn from, and America to mimic. Each successive regime was a little less authoritarian than the one before it. Germany went nuts in the twentieth century, but had been moving toward democracy. Who knows what might have happened without the worldwide depression, massive war reparations, and Adolf Hitler?

We've been lucky to have had only one Republic (if we can keep it), but France is on its Fifth. Germany, on the other hand, went from the worst murderous regime in Western European history to a true democracy almost overnight.

I also think that Gaddafi is a somewhat different animal from the others. He's not just a brutal dictator and major supporter of terrorism, he's plainly and simply stark staring nuts. I don't think Libya could be much worse for us without him than it is with him.

AndrewPrice said...

Good point Lawhawk, the Chinese are much, much, much more savvy than the tin pot dictators of the Middle East -- not only in terms of controlling their people's access to negative information, but also in terms of giving their people just enough "goodies" to keep them from rising up as a group. I don't expect this uprising fever to spread to China.

Unknown said...

Andrew: If and when the revolution in China comes, it will start in the outer provinces where peasant life isn't much better than it was when Mao used it to fuel his rebellion. If successful that would be true poetic justice. China also has its youth to deal with. Oddly, it always seems to be the young in the urban environments who realize that despite their cushy lives, they live under a regime that could take it away in an instant. If the rebellion does start in the provinces, watch for the youth in the cities to join, quickly.

StanH said...

I’ve never been one to buy into China eclipsing America, Barry will be gone soon enough and we’ll get back in the saddle, and resume number one. And like you and LL pointed out, they’ve got their own problems, and they’re massive. We can solve our problem by slowing the rate of growth in government, and beginning to live within our means, lower taxes, exploit our own energy sources, technology, etc. China on the other hand, has too always expand government to keep up(tens of millions of peasants under the government umbrella), using state capitalism or aka. Fascism as the fuel for it’s upward surge, it has almost zero energy resources, most of it’s technology is stolen. Gravity will eventually win, as it always does, and the dragon will go up in smoke. And as it was with the USSR, China will probably break into pieces. My biggest fear with China is - - thanks to Bill Clinton, allowing “Loral Space” to sell super computers and technology to China which invariably wound up with the Chinese military helping the bastards with their guidance systems for their ICBMs, for a more accurate strike on the USA, Europe, etc. “When” the revolution comes to China what will become on their nuclear weapons? We’ll see.

Tehachapi Tom said...

I am at a total loss.

We, the USA, are on the back of a giant horse galloping toward loss of the freedoms that we are known through out the world for.

While we descend into bo's plan for socialistic control, the rest of the world is aflame with the need and desire for freedom.

Where are the people who understand and are willing to support what is a basic human right?

Unknown said...

Stan: I have plenty of faith left in America to agree with you on the future end of Chinese economic ascendancy. With that many people, they are bound to play a role in international economics, but in any form approaching its current status, the end will come. Meanwhile, America will get back on its feet, restore business sanity, and go back to the position of undisputed economic top dog. The defunding of the EPA and the beginning of sanity about our use of our abundant natural resources is an early positive sign.

One thing is sure, the Chinese didn't use Bill Clinton's supercomputer gift to encourage private use of the Internet.

Unknown said...

Tehachapi Tom: Only a people with a government that truly believes in freedom and the rights of individuals can claim a right to true democracy. China and those Middle Eastern medievals don't believe. What's truly frightening is that I think Obama thinks the same way. If you can't understand and promote American exceptionalism, you shouldn't be President of the United States (or dog catcher, for that matter).

T_Rav said...

Just tossing this out here, but maybe if we gave some covert aid to the thirty million Christians in China and encouraged them to proselytize and all, that might build up an underground civil society, which in time could contest the authority of the ruling Communists, and maybe pave the way for democracy...oh, what am I saying? That's violating separation of church and state and bigoted or something. Oh well, guess we shouldn't do that.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: Maybe we could pretend we're supporting Jeremiah Wright and the United Church of Christ. That should get Obama's attention, and some federal funds. On the other hand, it didn't do those Christian missionaries a lot of good off Somalia. The Christians in China have been very brave, and I hope they don't get turned into martyrs. But nobody ever said that freedom of religion in a communist (or Islamist) country was a safe position to take.

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