Friday, August 1, 2008

A Lengthy Analysis of China: The Communists' Response to China's Internal Problems

Post 8 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

China’s lingering internal issues would present significant challenges for even the most honest and able governments. The current Communist regime, though, as with other unpopular, unrepresentative governments, has put a priority on maintaining power in the short run, which has affected their handling of the various issues plaguing China and, in fact, has become another such hindrance to China’s development in the long run. Rather than confronting China’s problems objectively, the government has dealt with them in such a way to try to tighten its hold on power. Its response to the recent earthquake is a perfect example of this, with propaganda newsreels constantly replaying images of Chinese soldiers coming to the rescue[1] and of Premier Wen Jiabao consoling victims.[2]

The government’s handling of the Tibetan unrest and its causes is also consistent with this trend. Rather than to grant Tibet the kind of autonomy logically implied by its status as an autonomous region, the government has tightened its grip over the area to assert its own blunt authority over Tibet as well as China. Rather than to try to ease the ethnic tensions at the source of the Tibetans’ discontent, the government actively heightened such tensions to try to gain popular backing for its crackdown. Rather than to try to balance the growth that has brought poverty and stagnation to much of China, including Tibet, the government has not done enough to control the surging economic growth, afraid of stemming such growth altogether and alienating local officials and wealthy businessmen. Perhaps a more popular or representative government would be compelled to more objectively confront China’s internal problems for the good of the people, and for the good of China.

To be fair, though, the Chinese government has recognized the need to at least partially address the well-being of the nation itself, evident in its steady loosening of economic restraints. Such reforms, though, would not have been enacted if the government had not thought they would benefit in some way. Indeed, the increased economic activity generated as result of such actions has substantially increased the government’s tax revenue, and the growing international clout of China due to its economic rise has in turn translated into the Chinese government’s growing influence over the rest of the world. Such moves were also carried out with the hope of appeasing the public with greater economic freedom and prosperity while at the same time stopping short of allowing enough civil liberties, criticism, or opposition to threaten the government’s power.

In the wake of economic growth and modernization, though, the Communists are finding it harder and harder to maintain their grip on power. The economic reforms, although satisfying some people, have made others, such as minorities, more dissatisfied. As more and more people experience economic freedom, they in turn wonder about political freedom as well. As more and more international companies do business with China, the Western political ideals they bring further whet the appetite of democracy in many Chinese. In the face of such renewed pressure, the government, like it has in similar situations in the past, particularly the infamous Tiananmen Square incident, has clamped down ever harder on real and perceived threats to its rule. As the latest response to the Tibetan unrest shows, the government is resorting to more and more heavy-handed means of enforcing its power, from military deployment and propaganda to its inhumane tactics and the jailing of human rights activists that condemn them.[3] Indeed, it is likely that the Communists have put renewed emphasis on reigning in Tibet and Xinjiang in order to demonstrate the might of their authority to the rest of China.

Even as the central government’s grip on the people loosens, though, so does its grip over its own officials. The once centralized party apparatus has steadily become more and more decentralized since the death of Mao Zedong to the point where now the power and discretion exercised by local officials has grown significant, making it that much harder for the government to agree on and address domestic issues uniformly.

As the embattled Communist government struggles to stay afloat, it is becoming more and more of an obstacle to China’s development into a world power. Subjecting the handling of China’s problems to the desire to maintain power will doubtless leave them inadequately solved or worsened, allowing them to continue to distort and hinder China’s development. Subjecting the Chinese people to such authoritarian and self-serving measures will doubtless continue to cause more internal turmoil and popular dissatisfaction. Outside China’s borders, the government’s actions have and will continue to be the subject of international scrutiny and subsequent consequences. China’s poor human rights record has long been condemned by the rest of the world, particularly the West, damaging Chinese credibility. Restrictions on civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression, have made it harder for foreign companies to do business in China, since they are reluctant about having their businesses restricted or even used by the government as it tries to maintain its hold over the restless population.[4] Truly, the autocratic rule of the Chinese government is a hindrance for China, both internally and externally.

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/2016887/China-earthquake-Beijing-seizes-on-rescue-for-Olympic-propaganda.html
[2] http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displayStory.cfm?source=hptextfeature&story_id=11541327
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/world/asia/04china.html
[4] http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/jan2006/nf20060113_6735_db053.htm

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