<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> <HTML><HEAD> <META content="text/html; charset=unicode" http-equiv=Content-Type> <META name=GENERATOR content="MSHTML 8.00.6001.19019"></HEAD> <BODY> <DIV class=headline>On the defensive</DIV> <H1 class=rubric>A bad attack of the jitters among Chinese leaders, and dissidents pay the price </H1> <P class=ec-article-info>Apr 7th 2011 | from the print edition </P> <DIV class=share_inline_header> <UL class=clearfix> <LI class="share-inline-header-twitter first"><IFRAME style="WIDTH: 110px; HEIGHT: 20px" class="twitter-share-button twitter-count-horizontal" title="Twitter For Websites: Tweet Button" tabIndex=0 src="http://platform0.twitter.com/widgets/tweet_button.html?_=1302478960631&amp;count=horizontal&amp;lang=en&amp;text=Banyan%3A%20On%20the%20defensive%20%7C%20The%20Economist&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economist.com%2Fnode%2F18530193&amp;via=theeconomist" frameBorder=0 allowTransparency scrolling=no></IFRAME> <LI class="share-inline-header-facebook even last"><IFRAME style="BORDER-BOTTOM: medium none; BORDER-LEFT: medium none; WIDTH: 90px; HEIGHT: 21px; OVERFLOW: hidden; BORDER-TOP: medium none; BORDER-RIGHT: medium none" src="http://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http://www.economist.com/node/18530193&amp;layout=button_count&amp;show_faces=true&amp;width=450&amp;action=like&amp;font=verdana&amp;colorscheme=light&amp;height=21" frameBorder=0 allowTransparency scrolling=no></IFRAME></LI></UL></DIV> <DIV class="ec-article-content clear"> <DIV class="content-image-full ec_article_large_image"><IMG alt="" src="cts20110409_asd000.jpg"></DIV> <P>THE rest of the world may gasp in awe at China s surging economy and cower somewhat in face of its growing might, but its own leaders seem far from complacent. Indeed, to judge from its latest defence white paper, and from a continuing crackdown on its critics at home, China s government feels besieged.</P> <P>The white paper, produced every two years since 1998, with the latest dated 2010, did not appear until March 31st this year. Maybe it was late because the world has been changing too fast, in too many unsettling ways. The paper suggests a world resentful of China s emergence as a global power, and trying to thwart it:  Suspicion about China, interference and countering moves against China from the outside are on the increase. </P> <P>The white paper claims  the armed forces resolutely subdue all subversive and sabotage activities by hostile forces. In fact, that task is being pre-empted by other organs of the Chinese state. They have been conducting the biggest round-up of dissidents, human-rights activists, lawyers and bloggers seen for years.</P> <DIV class=related-items><STRONG>Related topics</STRONG> <DIV class=item-list> <UL class=related-item-list> <LI class=first><A class=related-inline-topics href="http://www.economist.com/topics/summer-olympics">Summer Olympics</A> <LI class=" even"><A class=related-inline-topics href="http://www.economist.com/topics/sport">Sport</A> <LI><A class=related-inline-topics href="http://www.economist.com/topics/olympic-games">Olympic games</A> <LI class=" even"><A class=related-inline-topics href="http://www.economist.com/topics/social-issues">Social issues</A> <LI class=last><A class=related-inline-topics href="http://www.economist.com/topics/human-rights">Human rights</A> </LI></UL></DIV></DIV> <P>According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an NGO, by April 4th some 30 people had been detained and faced criminal charges relating to the so-called  jasmine revolution  an inchoate internet campaign to emulate in China recent upheavals in the Middle East and north Africa. Human Rights Watch, another NGO, reports that a further 100-200 people have suffered repressive measures, from police summonses to house arrest. This has been accompanied by tighter censorship of the internet, the ousting of some liberal newspaper editors, and new curbs on foreign reporters in China, some of whom have been roughed up.</P> <P>Then this week the dragnet pulled in Ai Weiwei, the best-known dissident in China not to be behind bars. A famous artist, with an installation now on display at a gallery in London and a lasting legacy in the  bird s nest stadium in Beijing built for the 2008 Olympics, Mr Ai is also, as the son of a revolutionary poet, the Communist equivalent of minor royalty. On April 3rd he was detained at Beijing airport as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong. His companion was told that Mr Ai had  other business . </P> <P>He has been in trouble before. Last year he was prevented from travelling abroad to attend the ceremony in Oslo where Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese dissident, was awarded the Nobel peace prize. This January his studio in Shanghai was demolished, in what he saw as an act of retribution for his political activism.</P> <P>Now the police seem determined to find evidence of some  crime . Soon after his detention, a dozen officers arrived at his studio. They detained people they found there for questioning, and confiscated computers. Mr Ai s associates fear that his latest troubles are more serious than previous tangles with the authorities, and that the instructions to take action against him have come  from the top . After the detention, the official press was at first silent about him, until <EM>Global Times</EM>, a party newspaper, described him as  close to the red line of Chinese law . Then, in a terse midnight report, the official news agency revealed that he was being investigated for  economic crimes . It smacked of  Alice In Wonderland  detention first, suspected crime later.</P> <P>In the end, Mr Ai s celebrity seems to have afforded him no protection, and may even have rendered his liberty more precarious. The party seems intent on showing that it will allow no leeway to those dreaming of a people-power movement or democracy. The higher-profile the victim, the more forcibly that message is conveyed. Mr Ai seems likely to become the latest victim of the use of the law to impose political orthodoxy. On March 25th Liu Xianbin, an activist, was sentenced to ten years in prison for  slandering the Communist Party . </P> <P>Even more worrying, however, is the increasing resort to informal detentions, punishments and disappearances. These are outside the law, offering the victim no protection at all. The government now dismisses the idea that one function of the law is to defend people against the arbitrary exercise of state power. On March 3rd a Chinese foreign-ministry spokeswoman told foreign journalists:  Don t use the law as a shield. Some people, she said, want to make trouble in China and  for people with these kinds of motives, I think no law can protect them. </P> <P>It is tempting to dismiss the current crackdown as just the latest twist in the unending cycle of repression and liberalisation through which China has been spinning for over three decades. Popular uprisings abroad, like sensitive political anniversaries or big events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics at home, offer pretexts for a round-up of the usual suspects. They provide a stiff but effective reminder that in China s political system  a people s democratic dictatorship  it is the dictatorship bit that counts. </P> <P>This bout of repression, however, may reflect more than the usual cycle. For a start, it is a huge overreaction. For all the online chatter, no one thinks China is on the brink of a jasmine revolution. Also, with a leadership transition coming next year, and China s new rulers mostly already identified, it helps quash any notion that they might usher in an era of liberalisation. </P> <P><A name=never_taking_off></A><STRONG>Never taking off</STRONG></P> <P>Although the short-term risk of a copycat revolution in China is small, events elsewhere have demonstrated the long-term corrosive effect on repressive regimes of the internet, mobile telephones and social networks. Better, the party seems to have concluded, to crack down long and hard now than to wait and see. In George Orwell s novel  1984 , an intellectual party hack paints a vision of the future as  a boot stamping on a human face for ever . China has updated that. Its vision seems to be of a computer screen with a message that the website you seek is unavailable; or perhaps of a mysterious encounter at immigration, and the interpolation of  other business between check-in and flight</P> <P>-----------------</P> <DIV class="comment-info clearfix"> <DIV class=comment-headline><A title="View user's comments." href="http://www.economist.com/user/Callithrix%2Bjacchus/comments">Callithrix jacchus</A> wrote: </DIV> <DIV class=comment-date>Apr 10th 2011 1:29 GMT </DIV></DIV> <DIV class="comment-body clearfix"> <P>The comments in the white paper that were most troubling were 1)  Suspicion about China, interference and countering moves against China from the outside are on the increase. 2)  the armed forces resolutely subdue all subversive and sabotage activities by hostile forces. We hope that these are accurate translations.</P> <P>The statements capture in turn the two most compelling things about China: 1) a fear of the outside and opening up to the rest of the world (in terms of ideas and exchanges), and 2) a fear of what is happening inside, and the efforts at subduing the population (in terms of giving free rein to the peoples aspirations). Both are emblematic of troubled and despotic regimes.</P> <P>But what is more interesting is that most Chinese would agree with the assessment in the White Paper. It is really hard to understand why most educated Chinese (including the diaspora) believe that that everything is just fine, and that malignant external forces seek to disrupt the harmony of China. I have yet to meet a Chinese citizen who disagrees with this notion or that the the Dalai Lama is "evil". Many think that the system is actually democratic in a "uniquely Chinese way". One of the things that was most intriguing about the old Soviet Union was that the people were deeply cynical about the Soviet regime and they subsumed the cynicism in the form of dark humor. I loved the jokes about the dictatorship. China offers a stark contrast. I have yet to hear jokes about the CCP by Chinese. It is not that humor is lacking in China. It is that people by and large believe that their system is just fine. There is nothing to joke about here.</P> <P>Americans, Europeans, Indians, Pakistani's, Brazilians, etc. all make rude and often vicious jokes about their governments. And this is a good thing. But not the Chinese people. Their sense of destiny seems to outweigh current conditions. The end seems to justify the means.</P> <P>China as a superpower in 2050 is not terribly interesting. The state of Chinese society in 2050 is far more interesting. As long as the people take the CCP seriously and believe that the West is filled with hatred for China, nothing will change. As long as the people do not see themselves as part of the world, as global citizens, nothing will change. Heavy prose from the CCP is always expected. Look instead at the people and to what extent they agree.</P></DIV> <DIV class="comment-links clearfix"> <DIV id=recommend-cid-884888 class=recommend><A class=recommend href="http://www.economist.com/vote/recommend-comment/884888?page=&amp;nid=18530193&amp;token=9fcb94c17775f63b9b9a58bc4d2e696a&amp;sort=asc" rel=nofollow>Recommend</A> (9)</DIV> <DIV class=recommend>&nbsp;</DIV> <DIV class=recommend> <DIV class="comment-info clearfix"> <DIV class=comment-headline><A title="View user's comments." href="http://www.economist.com/user/canabana/comments">canabana</A> wrote: </DIV> <DIV class=comment-date>Apr 10th 2011 2:57 GMT </DIV></DIV> <DIV class="comment-body clearfix"> <P>Callithrix jacchus wrote: "Americans, Europeans, Indians, Pakistani's, Brazilians, etc. all make rude and often vicious jokes about their governments. And this is a good thing. But not the Chinese people. Their sense of destiny seems to outweigh current conditions. The end seems to justify the means"</P> <P>This is not surprising. According to Pew Research Centre in the U.S., the Chinese government does have an approval rate of over 80% by its citizens, higher than any other major countries.</P></DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></BODY></HTML>