Police talk to a couple of men filming interviews in Chengdu's central Tianfu square while I was on vacation there last year.
Don’t hold your breath. Recent news of protests in China will not amount to revolutionary change as seen in the Middle East. But damn you, CCP, for perpetuating this interminable argumentative paradox.
It’s safe to say that most foreigners who have earned the expatriate title living in China have a love-hate relationship with the country. Obviously, most find enough weight on the pro side of the scale to remain. Still the vicissitudes of daily life provide ample sway.
While in China, friends and I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time blasting the inconsistent rationality of most things Chinese. Yet, as soon as I return home, the tables turn. I find myself unwittingly and yet seemingly forced to defend China, warts and all.
A perfect example of this behavioral paradox manifested itself this weekend. I was reading Michael Turton’s blog, a man I generally agree with and find quite insightful. He posted something to the effect of the Confucius Institute is a covert international spy network set up by the CCP. It was bold, and reaching; I saved the link.
China’s lack of an exportable (soft) culture is seen as a huge hole in its PR toolbox. There are plans aplenty to rectify this. For instance, the government has promised millions in funding to try to set up a 24-hour English news channel a la BBC or CNN. The idea being that it could spread the “China voice,” more effectively exposing the world to the country’s (read: the CCP’s) opinion on international matters. The Confucius Institute, essentially a mandarin language center, has been the party’s most successful attempt at garnering an allegedly non-political and respectable Chinese presence abroad.
It should come as no surprise that candidates hoping to work for the institute are thoroughly vetted by the supervising body. Foremost is the increasingly illogical yet persistent fear of a country offering a visa to a Chinese who might defect and never return home. But beyond that, I am sure the powers that be want those representing the country to be loyal and patriotic– as would any state-run enterprise abroad.
Stories of spy games and blacklisting seem to me unsubstantiated at best and not surprising to say the least. To assume government organizations abroad are not players in international policy is foolish. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist myself, but I think US history (most notably Central and South America) assures us that our own “national interests” have met these means over the years.
So right as I was about to post this rebuttal, the CCP went ahead and made itself look like an asshole again locking up alleged dissidents for fear of Middle East-inspired protests. I certainly don’t condone or support this effort, yet it also doesn’t surprise me.
Unlike the Northern African nations who are just now realizing they played their cards wrong, the CCP has China by the balls. The New York Times and others calling the crack down a show of “nervousness” is more than a stretch. Reports peg the number of arrests and lockdowns at around 90. Mind you that Chinese authorities could arrest the entire population of Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt combined and there would still be 1.2 billion people going about business as usual.
The amazing, albeit horrifying, aspect of these events is the individual willingness within the police state to crack down on dissidents. There must be at least a few intelligence officers who go home at night and scrub their hands until they bleed. But for whatever reason, I imagine that number to be practically infinitesimal. The fact that unknown streams of normal netizens log on as pro bono nationalist hackers is a quick reminder of how strong support for the party remains.
So come what may of these arrests, the CCP isn’t going to flinch. These North African regimes are falling because they have failed to provide basic societal needs– security and opportunity. While they have ignored festering tensions among the masses, the CCP has not. There is a brutal mastery in manipulation of public accord, a wave of the wand China knows well.