China: The smell of Jasmine in the air.

There is not a drop of doubt, with the unprecedented events occurring in the Middle East, that we are witnessing what will be documented in history books indelibly. What many would consider the milestone of the Information Age, the Internet, has been the defining catalyst to the dramatic spread of this pro-democratic virus. We are seeing this epidemic not just as a regional phenomenon, but it distantly reaching the growing economic giant, China. Subsequently, putting the Chinese government even more on edge in light of results stemming from the Arab world.

Chinese Lion

Just the tail end of 2010, the Norwegian Nobel committee honored a jailed Chinese democratic activist, Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize. Essentially enhancing the flavor of China’s already controversial approaches in their repressive handling of political issues. A New York Times (NYT) editorial describes, “Mr. Liu represents China’s best potential future.”

Thus far, China has gone great lengths in economic reform, currently trending double-digit GDP growth and recently surpassing Japan as the second largest economy in the world. Awhile keeping a sturdy vice on political freedoms. Thomas L. Friedman so eloquently asks in his Going Long Liberty in China (NYT) editorial, “Can China continue to prosper, while censoring the Internet, controlling its news media and insisting on a monopoly of political power by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?”

In recent weeks there have been several anonymous organizers over the Internet in hopes to call for Middle-East style demonstrations in Beijing. Though, due to China’s “iron-grip” in media surveillance and control, China has been able to subdue such demonstrations before they even begin. The Chinese government has made the word “jasmine” unsearchable and still continues to block social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter. According to a Tsinghua University study that was based on official police budgets, it is estimated that in 2010 China spends as high as $77 billion for public security alone, roughly equaling to China’s national defense spending. As increasing Internet prevalence spreading along with the modernization of China, as well as globally, we see a positive relationship in spending required to upkeep what Chinese officials call “stability maintenance”. China has had a long history of persistent calls for political reform from activists, but because of vigorous improvements in economic growth and standard of living in mostly urban populations, focus has been temporarily diverted.

However, to sustain such growth is very unrealistic, because now it has become a balancing act in adjusting for all that is inherited with such explosive growth. In China, what we have come to see laterally with increased standard of living and greater capitalistic influence in all metropolitan cities, an enormous portion of the Chinese population have begun adopting western-style consumerism skyrocketing demand in commodities and energy. Resulting in high inflation rates, particularly in food commodities, and prices that large majorities of Chinese are sensitive to and worried about.

The CCP came into power after World War II due to hyperinflation. Therefore, CPP officials are concerned that elevated costs will trigger social instability. China has modestly slowed inflation for the short-term but will still remain a hot issue for years to come in conjunction with its high GDP growth. Alongside contracting the “web-borne” Jasmine virus, and decades of chronic pressure for political freedom, fundamentally, China is fighting a political stability war on multiple fronts.

To answer the question, expressed by Friedman, no. China eventually will need to address the source of its own social injustice, because controls on high-level social pressure will inevitability become a mere fantasy. China’s clampdown on Jasmine uprisings will only give rise to more reasons of discontent. Economic freedom beside the absence of political liberty may function now, nonetheless the CPP is approaching the threshold where economic and political liberties need to come hand-in-hand or the “harmonious balance” that the Chinese government has so hard tried to balance will eventually topple.


~ by Roger Sutton on March 4, 2011.

2 Responses to “China: The smell of Jasmine in the air.”

  1. You make some good points, Roger. I wonder how long it will take until we see some of that 77 billion spent in the form of a pro-beijing commenter here.

  2. Thank you Tim. Now, public security now exceeds defense spending, $95 billion and $92 billion, respectively. This just shows how sensitive China’s system is to any sort of (especially political) instability.

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