Learning from 'jasmine revolutions', but it's not about democracy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am


Should Beijing take a lesson from the 'jasmine revolutions' in the Arab world? 'Yes,' say researchers at government think tanks. But the lesson is not one about democracy, but about how the government can effectively deliver development and general welfare.

Zhang Xiaodong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of West Asian and African Studies, told the China Business News that the upheavals were mainly a consequence of inequality.

Those societies became divided, he said. 'As one class grabbed most of the wealth those countries could earn from the globalisation process, the other class, consisting mostly of educated young people, were left with nothing but access to the new information technologies.' Hence the have-nots were quick to rise up against the haves.

However, Zhang said a revolution would not necessarily give birth to a new democracy, or change to an old political structure.

As for relations between China and the United States, Zhang said one misconception was that China would have more to gain if the US got bogged down in a messy situation. Instead, Zhang said, the right thing to do would be for China to talk to the US and see what they could do together in the region.

While Zhang may be seen as representing the official view, as indicated by the academy's background, other people's views - as seen on the internet - are divided.

An avant-garde view, deviating markedly from China's almost single-minded emphasis on sovereignty in foreign policy, comes from Professor Han Xudong, of the People's Liberation Army's National Defence University.

Published in the Chinese edition of Global Times, Han's article said that outside intervention in one country's civil strife had become a global trend and international organisations also commissioned outside troops to intervene in internal or cross-border conflicts among member states.

To prevent abusive interventions, the UN should be allowed to assume more authority in making related decisions and providing the legal basis for such actions, Han proposed.

A sharper critique, published online and signed by Hui Tong Tian Xia, branded the UN-authorised intervention in Libya as a rerun of an old drama in which big powers band together through a shared interest to force a weak non-Western sovereign country to accept their terms.

Other internet users tended to view conspiracy theories as a joke. In an internet column signed by Niu Bi A Sha Wen, for example, the author said the North African crises were not an American invention but the result of internal social discontent in the region.

Meanwhile, a satirical comment was posted on many internet sites, including that of the official People's Daily: 'CCTV [China Central Television] said the US attacked Iraq because of its oil.

'According to the same logic, it went to Afghanistan for goat meat, to Vietnam for bananas, to Korea for kimchi, to Japan for sushi and to Germany for beer. One day, if it comes to attack China, then it must be because the Americans want to join the Communist Party - for all the privileges that party cadres have.'

The central government called for city governments to announce their targets for the control of housing prices by the end of March, but only one city, Beijing, pledged that the government would seek to lower the price of ordinary housing units from their 2010 level.

Other cities that set price-control targets only pledged to try to prevent average housing prices rising faster than gross domestic product.

Some cities, such as Ningbo and Xian, even announced that they would allow housing prices to rise by more than 10 per cent from last year.

Local governments were 'just inventing new pretexts for price rises instead of helping price controls work', the Global Times said.

Governments at all levels must be aware that the price of housing is no longer an economic issue but a political issue. Citizens are as sensitive to housing prices as they are to retail prices, the editorial warned.

That housing is politics was echoed by An Qingren, a blogger on bokerb.com. Calling himself a true follower of Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong thought, An said the fundamental contradiction in Chinese society was no longer an economic one, but a political one with grave consequences.

'Everyone is clear in his heart,' An said, that the housing market is not an all market economy, because 'at least 70 per cent of real estate companies are privately owned by officials at various levels, or with officials holding their shares.'

One reader's comment on An's blog, from Sanming, Fujian, read: 'Indeed only some violent drugs can cure China's disease now. For the government to win back the citizens' support, it is high time that these drugs were used. Otherwise we may see in China what we have seen in the Middle East recently.'

Developer Kong Rui wrote on House.focus.cn, that as there was not a country in the world where people wished to see their properties lose value, the central government's attempt to bring down housing prices was a 'national tragedy'.