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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Faultlines and sand:China's future.

China's Future?In a thought provoking article entitled Where is China Heading?: Analysis of the coming Leviathan Dr Moonis Ahmar, a visiting fellow, Asia Research Centre, London School of Economic and Political Science, argues that there exists today six “fault lines” in the Chinese system that pose potential threats to the stability and future direction of the country and ergo the future of the Chinese Communist party.

Despite the expansive title however the doctor fails to answer his own question adequately enough but certainly provides some thought starters as to the dilemmas the Chinese Communist party must be facing as it manages the country’s transition from a Marxist state to a market economy.

To expand on his analogy, Dr Ahmar believes in essence that Chinese society today is akin to a city straddling several seismic fault lines, each capable of slipping and setting off an earthquake that could rock or even destroy the city.

These ‘fault lines’ he identifies in the article as being

 Ethnic divisions
 Economic inequality
 Unemployment
 The floating population
 Corruption, and
 Taiwan

Ethnic Fault Lines: Uygurs and Tibetans

In his ethnic divisions “fault line” assessment the article identifies the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang as being ones that could have a major impact on Chinese society.

What I find amazing is the constant referral of academics and commentators to the “threat” posed by ethnic division in Xinjiang and Tibet. It sometimes appears to me that they believe that at any moment the Uygurs and the Tibetans will pounce upon their Han oppressors, slit there throats and then what? March on Beijing?

The Uygur number about 9 million and the Tibetans 5.5 million, they have no army, they are considerably out gunned and just a little outnumbered.

Some of these commentators point to Chechnya and to Afghanistan as being examples of the trouble a small number of highly motivated people can cause a large nation but these were two completely different scenarios.

The Soviets were in their death throes when these two situations caused them their heartache, her military was demoralised and badly equipped, there was not a lot of political will. Contrast that to China, a completely different story, a country on the rise with more than enough military muscle and political will to handle anything the Tibetans or Uygurs could throw at them even if the latter were inclined to do so.

Yes, the Uygurs and the Tibetans in their hearts wish and dream of independence but neither are a stupid people, nor have they shown any desire, as peoples, to achieve their dreams through violent means. The Chinese through their continuing policies of cultural oppression and harsh “crackdowns” have all but successfully destroyed the “will” of these blighted peoples.

No, in my view ethnic divisions can not be considered one of the major threats to the structure of Chinese society as the Doctor argues.

Economic Fault Lines: Unemployment et al

The Doctor speaks of two economic “faultlines” and one with both economic and social considerations, that is: economic inequality, unemployment and the floating population. He rightly identifies that these are real threats to any society not only that of China, but, as he points out, so long as the economic miracle continues these pose no immediate problems. As long as the affected peoples have reasonably full bellies and are treated to sops once in a while, as the government is adroitly doing, then these do not pose immediate threats.

Corruption and Taiwan

He then moves on to corruption which as we all know China appears to excel at being ranked as one of, if not, the most corrupt nation on earth. He believes that whilst the government has the rhetoric on fighting corruption it is short on fulfilment.

I think that this is probably a harsh assessment. The problem of corruption is so endemic and so historically entwined in Chinese culture that no one would be able to eradicate it overnight, if ever. Having said that I feel the government is beginning to make headway and is certainly doing enough to ward off the effects the doctor envisages such as a declining work ethic with all it’s negative connotations. As I said corruption or at least it’s more ‘acceptable” form of giving and expecting “fringe benefits” is something that goes very much with the territory in China.

Finally he speaks of Taiwan which it must be admitted by all to be the San Andreas of Chinese fault lines and needs no further discussion here.

With regard to the future of the Chinese Communist Party I agree with the assessment that at present given the booming economy and the historical importance of the party to China that the Chinese people do not seek, at the moment at least, an alternative. The Pro-democracy elements are small and not organised and the Chinese people in all their history have known no other way than autarky and are not generally uncomfortable with it.

Religion: Oof Seismic Importance?

Whilst the Doctor makes no mention of religion I assume he does, by omission, not deem it a potential “faultline”. I too do not believe that religion per se will be a problem for social stability albeit that the continued rise of Christianity will be a problem as to the longevity of the CCP.

Some analysts point to the Islamic factor but that is just not real. Whilst China has many Muslims they are no way unified nor likely to “rise” so to speak as one under any Islamic banner. A major fault I believe in many commentators analysis, and one I might add is the result of improper research, is in seeing the Uygur as being driven by any form of religious fundamentalism or extremism. Even if that were to be true they could not get support from the likes the Hui Muslims or even their “Turkic brothers” the Kazak/Chinese.

China's Shifting Sands

Crystal balling China is no easy task there are just too many variables. Problems like pollution and general degradation of the environment are never identified as potential “faultlines but who is to say that they may not become considerable factors in social stability. Many human rights issues may be dark horses as well.

As the Doctor quotes Deng Xiaping as saying “ the Chinese people are like a plate of sand” and I for one would not like to be doing the balancing act.

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