Beijing is taking no chances regarding the possible impact that the "color"
revolutions raging in North Africa and Middle East may have on China.
While news about the dramatic events in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and surrounding
regions can still be found in the state media, all Chinese editors have been
told by the Chinese Communist
Party's (CCP) Propaganda Department that they can only use news dispatches by
the official Xinhua News Agency.
Moreover, Netizens and bloggers are not allowed to discuss Egypt in the Chinese
equivalents of Facebook or Twitter. Egypt-related searches on various
micro-blogs, such as Sina.com, Netease.com and Weibo have produced either no
results or error messages.
The Hu Jintao administration has attempted to divert public attention by
focusing on the speed and efficiency with which Beijing dispatched chartered
flights to send home hundreds of Chinese (including tourists from Hong Kong)
stranded in various Egyptian cities.
An editorial in the official Global Times pointed out that "Western-style"
institutions and norms ill-suited the people of Africa and the Middle East.
"Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy," said the Times, which
is a subsidiary of People's Daily.
Other academics and experts have focused on the fact that given the
quasi-alliance relationship between Egypt and the United States, upheaval in
Egypt will only spell trouble for Washington's interests in the Middle East.
For instance, Shanghai-based international relations expert Li Shimo noted that
if real elections were to take place in Egypt and neighboring countries, the
ballot box could produce Muslim leaders who would not only spurn US-style
democracy but also threaten America's oil supplies.
To forestall anti-government riots in China, the CCP leadership has the past
several weeks spotlighted the "close-to-the-masses" persona of senior cadres.
Premier Wen Jiabao visited the Bureau of Letters and Complaints to talk to
petitioners who have grievances against governments of different levels.
It was the first time that a senior official had ever talked to petitioners,
who are regularly harassed and even imprisoned by police and state-security
Official newspapers have spotlighted substantial boosts in expenditure on
social welfare in the government's newly published 12th Five Year Plan (2011 to
2015). On top of the 22.8% increase in minimum wages across China last year,
different cities have already announced salary hikes of around 15% to help
workers weather fast-rising living costs.
While the official consumer price index jumped 4.6% in December 2010, most
Chinese economists reckon that food prices alone have gone up by at least 10%
the past year. Partly owing to poor weather conditions nationwide, the
government will be hard-put to tackle the spiraling prices of rice and wheat,
vegetables and meat.
Given that inflation is set to rage through 2011 - and that the rich-poor gap
in China will yawn even wider - the possibility of a people power-style
uprising cannot be discounted. And this is why the Hu leadership, which is
preparing for a major power transition slated for the 18th CCP Congress next
year, will be pulling out all the stops to crack down on destabilizing and
"disharmonious" elements in Chinese society.
Given Beijing's belief that color revolutions are the handiwork of Western
governments, police and state-security personnel will likely put more pressure
on Chinese dissidents and non-governmental organizations that maintain contact
with American and European organizations.
Dr Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation. He has
worked in senior editorial positions in international media including Asiaweek
newsmagazine, South China Morning Post, and the Asia-Pacific Headquarters of
CNN. He is the author of five books on China, including the recently published
"Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges. Lam is an
Adjunct Professor of China studies at Akita International University, Japan,
and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.