May 28th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Labor's backflip on asylum-seekers

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Abbott's inroads into Labor's heartland

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Comment on the 2011 federal Budget

ENERGY: Will Windsor and Abbott deliver mandated ethanol?

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: How the U.S. can emerge from the global slump

SRI LANKA: Australia silent over war crimes against Tamils

WAR ON TERROR: Al-Qaeda and Pakistan's nuclear weapons program

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Election in Egypt: litmus test for Arab Revolution

CHINA: How Beijing has handled dissidents and protesters

NATIONAL PARKS: Tony Burke's showdown with mountain cattlemen

ENVIRONMENT: Global warming, the latest evidence

POPULATION: Russia to restrict abortions to reverse birth decline

EUTHANASIA: Decisive reasons to reject legalised euthanasia

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: The ups and downs of SA's euthanasia debates


BOOK REVIEW: Hijacking the brain- how pornography works

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How Beijing has handled dissidents and protesters

by Ian H. McDougall (reviewer)

News Weekly, May 28, 2011

In the wake of the “Jasmine Revolution” sweeping the Middle East, authorities in China have cracked down hard on dissidents threatening the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, hoping to avoid the fate of other dictatorial regimes.

The truth is the Communist Party derives its legitimacy solely from its ability to deliver high levels of economic growth. Very few people believe in socialism any more. As one Australian resident, formerly from China, said in a pre-Budget interview on SBS television, Australia is now more socialist than China. For example, free medicine does not exist in China. If you can’t pay cash, too bad — you die.

University students are still required to undergo political education, but teachers complain that it is very hard to teach students who have no interest in the topic of Mao Zedong thought. Similarly, Lei Feng, the model communist youth who died in 1962 at the age of 22, is simply “a headline” to today’s youth, political education teachers say.

Of course, to gain entry to the Communist Party, which is still essential to advancement in government or any form of enterprise, passing exams in ideological education is still essential. Even so, some candidates have been known to burst out laughing in the party exams because they think the questions are so absurd.

Although I was in China during the period of the Jasmine Revolution crackdown, I did not personally hear any reports of arrests or of people being called in to “have tea” with the security authorities.

According to reports circulating on the Net, venues for gatherings of protesters were circulated by China’s millions of “Netizens”. A few foreign reporters who turned up were manhandled and beaten up, and outgoing US ambassador and presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman and his family were seen at one venue; but, apart from that, nothing much happened.

From what I know of Stalin’s Great Terror, it was essentially the self-immolation of the Communist Party. People outside the party were frequently caught up in the Great Terror, but essentially it was the process by which Stalin bloodily, often indiscriminately, eliminated any real or imagined threat to his dictatorship. People at all levels could be — and were — caught up in the Great Terror, but it was essentially a purge of the Party.

From what I observed of the Jasmine Revolution crackdown, it involved thousands, rather than millions. What’s more, it was very much an elite phenomenon. Artist Ai Wei-wei, who was called in, survived at liberty as long as he did, not only because of his international reputation, but because he was the son of one of the Communist Party’s so-called “Eight Immortals”.

This is not to say that common people were not at risk. Members of the underground and house churches, who number perhaps 40 or 50 million, face persecution.

On the other hand, the official Protestant churches are no different theologically from their counterparts in the West and worship quite openly, apart from acknowledging their loyalty to the state. The Catholic Church is split between the official Church, which acknowledges the state as its superior power, and the underground Church, which acknowledges the Pope as its superior power.

It’s no secret that the authorities in Rome would dearly love to settle their differences with the Chinese authorities, which mainly revolve around the question of papal authority and the appointment of bishops.

Whatever the nature of the crackdown, it is still possible for foreign visitors to travel, without restriction or supervision, the length and breadth of China, with the obvious exceptions of the restive border regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, talk to anyone they like and do virtually anything they like. If this is a “massive crackdown”, it’s a very strange way to conduct one.

The more likely interpretation is that, as always, the leadership in Beijing is split and that the people caught up at lower levels are puppets in a form of factionalised conflict, as they were during the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square protests.

As Deng Xiaoping is reported to have said during the latter incident, “The net result of the protesters winning is that I’ll end up in jail again, and I have no intention of letting that happen.”

This is not to say that economic growth has turned China into a liberal democracy. The Communist Party has enormous power, and even middle and lower level officials have the power of life and death.

Large enterprises may be able to use their clout to escape local “fees and taxes”; however, small and medium enterprises cannot. The corrupt triumvirate of party, government and business work hand in hand to make most decisions.

As far as the countryside is concerned, where 80 per cent of Chinese people still live, not much has changed in 5,000 years. As far as the farmers are concerned, it’s still a case of “I’m in my field; the emperor is in Beijing. If he leaves me alone, I’ll leave him alone.”

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