Egypt-Type Revolt 'Unlikely' in China

Beijing is efficient at quelling "mass incidents" that erupt annually, experts say.

china-tiananmen-egypt-prote.jpg A Chinese worker expresses support for mass protests at Tiananmen Square, May 17, 1989, before the government's bloody crackdown.

As a mass popular uprising in the Egyptian capital enters its third week, Chinese commentators said such a movement was unlikely to happen in China.

While official media has played down coverage of the Cairo street protests aimed at forcing President Hosni Mubarak out from power, many Chinese netizens commented online and on RFA's listener call-in shows, expressing support for the Egyptian protesters.

But Chinese experts said that Beijing is too efficient at quelling the thousands of small "mass incidents" that erupt annually around the country for any sort of mass movement for change to spread in China.

U.S.-based media expert Meng Xuan said events in Egypt are unlikely to serve as any kind of "wake-up call" to China's ruling Communist Party.

"This so-called wake-up call has been coming for about 25 years now," Meng said.

"We can wake up in an enlightened way, reasonably, and set about building our own democracy. But for now, we shouldn't be thinking about this."

"While the crisis in Egypt is unfolding, everyone is drunk on revolution. We had this experience ourselves in 1989," Meng said, referring to mass protests in Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing that resulted in a bloody crackdown by the authorities. 

Specific issues

Meanwhile, Yang Dali, politics professor at the University of Chicago, said the protests in Egypt and in Tunisia before were sparked more by specific issues than by an ideological desire for change.

"In a lot of these countries, in Egypt, and in Tunisia before that, there has been relatively little progress economically, and relatively little reform," Yang said.

"They are also very rigid politically."

"Those in power, like Mubarak, have probably already been there for 30 years or more. So there must be a lot of conflict simmering below the surface."

He said China's ruling Communist Party has become too practised at quelling protests as they erupt, and is unlikely to face any serious challenge to its power.

"An authoritarian regime that has the ability to preserve stability in the short term will probably remain stable," Yang said. "But the price for this is very high."

"Maybe the best way forward is to institute some viable reforms to the political system, in order to release some of that pressure."

"They need a fairer, more equitable way of resolving disputes. That is the best way forward for a system that wants to maintain its stability."

Changing circumstances

Meng said the Party is also very good at adapting to changing social circumstances.

"The Chinese Communist Party is very good at internal adaptations, and at reinventing itself," he said. "Of all the dictatorships in the world, China's is probably the best-performing one, and it's based on the fact that Chinese people are no fools."

"They know how to make comparisons," Meng said.

Meng said that China is unlikely to experience a rerun of the events in Egypt for a variety of historical reasons. Most Chinese people don't want to take to the streets in opposition to the regime, he said.

Meng added that China's system is still effectively "imperial."

"Parents have to behave like parents, and children have to behave like children," Meng said. "In democracy, people are responsible for themselves."

"You ask if the Chinese Communist Party has lost the trust of the people, but I think it's too early to say whether or not that's true," he added.

Coverage limited

Beijing generally limits coverage of major confrontations between governments and citizens to an officially approved angle, using the Party's powerful central propaganda department, seeking to limit the range of public opinion on the topic.

Chinese official media coverage of events in Egypt has focused on efforts by tour companies and airlines to retrieve dozens of Chinese tourists from the country in the midst of the upheavals in Cairo.

Chinese netizens say that many comments in support of the Egyptian protesters are being removed from forums and microblogging sites.

A caller, surnamed Ma, to RFA's Mandarin call-in show “Heart to Heart” agreed.

"I do not think what’s happening in Egypt will have much of an impact on China," he said. "Yes, everybody hates corruption. But in my view, Premier Wen Jiabao’s talk about ensuring people’s livelihood helped calm many people." 

"I do not think they would take to the streets en masse," he said.

According to a listener surnamed Wang from the eastern province of Jiangsu, though, there is plenty of sympathy in China for the Egyptian movement.

"Authoritarianism is the root cause of instability," he said. "We know how people living in authoritarian countries feel. Like China, Egypt is an ancient civilization.  It has economic problems; its leader has stayed in power for many, many years."

"Chinese Communist officials should take a lesson from what’s happening in Egypt and make sure that the people are well looked after," he said.

Problems exist

A listener surnamed Jia told "Heart-to-Heart": "I think the problems that prompted the Tunisians and the Egyptians to take to the streets also exist in China." 

"I myself once witnessed how police in Shenzhen mistreated a fruit vendor," he said. "Didn’t the Jasmine Revolution begin with a fruit vendor in Tunisia?"

Chinese rights groups say at least four Beijing-based individuals are still serving jail sentences for their participation in the Tiananmen Square protests, which were suppressed by the People's Liberation Army in an armed crackdown on the nights of June 3 and 4.

A further three activists were sent to labor camp last year for their attempts to mark the 20th anniversary of the crackdown, which officials refuse to discuss openly and which left hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead and an unknown number injured.

Reported by Wen Jian and Wei Lian for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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