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China Cracking By: Frederick W. Stakelbeck Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In what is believed to be the deadliest confrontation since the murderous Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, police opened fire last week on a group of protesters in the coastal village of Dongzhou in the southern province of Guangdong, killing three people and wounding 10 others. Some local residents claim that dozens of protestors were killed and scores more wounded. Chinese riot police now patrol the village reinforced by police units from the nearby city of Shanwei.

After a series of initial denials and an unexplained delay of four days, the Guangdong government finally admitted grave mistakes had been made by police. “The commanding officer on the scene mishandled the situation, causing accidental deaths and injuries,” said one government official. The unidentified police commander who gave the order for paramilitary police to open fire has been arrested and is facing unspecified charges – an extremely rare move in authoritarian China.


Contrary to public statements made by Chinese officials, last week’s deadly confrontation was not an isolated “accident.” In truth, the killings are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that has included state-sponsored attacks and oppression designed to subjugate the Chinese people. In a country struggling to create an amenable global image, this approach could ultimately backfire on the CCP, energizing, not demoralizing, an increasingly angry and frustrated population.


Protests Rising


The rapid growth in the number and scale of public protests has gained the attention of Beijing – and they are visibly concerned. Zhou Yongkang, a senior Chinese police official, stated recently that the active prevention of what he termed “mass incidents” was the main task for the Ministry of Public Security in the near future. With protests occurring in over 300 cities and nearly 2,000 counties throughout mainland China, Mr. Zhou certainly has his hands full.


Responding to the rise in civil unrest, Vice President Zeng Qinghong wrote, “One important reason the Soviet Union broke up was that in their long time in power, their system of governing became rigid, their ability to govern declined, people were dissatisfied with what officials accomplished and the officials became seriously isolated from the masses.”


To avoid isolation from the masses and a Soviet-styled collapse, the Beijing government has adopted a three pronged, preventive approach to curb civil unrest that includes; greater government control of technology and the flow of information, the restriction or outright elimination of mass assembly and free speech rights and the targeted persecution of organizations designed to expose state-sponsored abuse, false imprisonment and torture.


Senseless Government Brutality Intensifies


In the most sickening attempt yet by Beijing to suppress civil disobedience; sixteen nuns of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sacred Heart Missionaries were beaten on a chilly November evening in downtown Xian City, Shanxi Province, by a group of 40 armed uniformed men. Five nuns were beaten so mercilessly that they required immediate hospitalization for broken legs and severe eye injuries.


The attack was allegedly triggered by a land dispute between local government authorities and nearly 200 nuns who staged a 1960’s styled “sit-in” in an attempt to defend the “School of the Rosary” from scheduled demolition. All of this comes at a time when Beijing has tightened its grip on the country’s five million Catholics by forbidding them from recognizing the Pope and forcing them to worship underground.


The cruel manner in which Beijing addresses incidences of civil unrest has attracted the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In December, U.N. torture investigator Manfred Nowak noted that human rights abuses were still widespread in China with authorities using electronic shock, beatings and sleep deprivation against prison detainees accused of obstructing government activities.


But Beijing’s most formidable adversary in their ongoing fight against civil unrest is the explosive growth of the Internet. With the number of Internet users in China estimated to exceed 100 million in 2005, access to the web is spreading throughout large metropolitan areas and into ancient farming communities where young families are learning the benefits of “going online.”


To combat this unwanted phenomenon, Beijing has recruited an army of 30,000 Internet secret police to monitor bloggers and bulletin board operators with the stated goal to “be proactive in developing discussion, increase control and use the Internet debate to our [CCP’s ] advantage.” 


Current Society Cannot Stand


In its feverish push to modernize and become a global competitor, the CCP has unknowingly planted the seeds for its own demise. CCP planners have mistakenly underestimated the level of public discontent associated with a reclusive government prone to indiscriminate violence. As a result, the ruling CCP now suffers from a severe case of “terminal paranoia” – fearing all organized challenges to its monopoly on power.  


The cracks in the Chinese façade are beginning to show and will become more pronounced in the months ahead. Recent mass protests point to an emerging global juggernaut out of control. Chinese society as it exists today cannot stand, regardless of the enormous wealth the country continues to accumulate.


The expectations of a growing market economy based upon the principles of free enterprise in harmony with Soviet-styled communist ideologies do not, and never will, work. Inevitably, the citizens responsible for the creation of the modern Chinese society will demand not only their fair share of the country’s economic prosperity, but also a role in governing the society they worked so hard to create.  


The economic revolution has finally arrived. Could a social revolution be far behind?


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Fred Stakelbeck is a Senior Asia Fellow with Washington-based Center for Security Policy. He is an expert on the economic and national security implications for the U.S. of China's emerging regional and global strategic influence. Comments can be forwarded to Frederick.Stakelbeck@verizon.net.

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