Jasmine Revolution: Is China on Edge?
- By Shivangi Muttoo
The Popular uprising that has gripped the Arab world marks an important turning point in the world history. The Jasmine revolution in Tunisia has inspired massive protests across the region: in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Libya and Yemen. There are strong chances of the revolution spreading beyond the Arab region. Protests have already reached south of the Sahara in Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe, clearly indicating that the Jasmine revolution has far more resonance than thought before. Where the revolt goes next is anyone’s guess. However, even as the prospects of a revolution in China appear slim as of now, the Communist regime no longer seems invincible.
Taking cue from the developments in Middle East and North Africa, the people in China have started an online campaign across 13 cities. The protesters have come up with a new idea of “strolling rallies”, where the protesters have been specifically asked not to assemble but stroll or walk on streets at specified times every Sunday. The campaign urges supporters “to stroll, watch or pretend to just pass by. As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear.” While there is no dictator to be removed from power in China, the protests mainly focus on government corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, lack of freedom of expression, stifling media freedom, expensive housing and poor healthcare. Drought has gripped huge areas of China which raises concern over food security. The recent unrest in the MENA region is linked to high food prices. If China is not able to address these issues effectively it could become vulnerable to a Middle East-style uprising. China is not completely immune to this growing momentum for ‘the change’. The uprising in the Arab world will leave behind a deep imprint on Chinese youth. China may or may not replicate the Jasmine revolt in the near future but the lesson from the Arab revolution is clear: change is possible and massive awakening is strong enough to challenge a deeply entrenched regime.
The Chinese government has been censoring most of the news of the Arab revolt. Social media sites are blocked in an effort to curb online discussions of the Jasmine revolution and political uprising in the MENA region. Even in the past, China has denied access to websites and blocked the use of Google, which affected around 450 million internet users in the country, due its strict censorship policy. Further, the police have so far arrested more than 100 dissidents who made the online call for anti-government demonstrations. Amid protest calls, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced a series of policies that would provide affordable housing, punish corrupt officials and boost agricultural production to contain price rise in the country. Clearly, China wants to tackle increasing public discontent through temporary economic measures.
While the chances of a revolution in China may appear slim for the moment, assuming a massive popular uprising takes place in the future, it could be marred by violence and bloodshed. China will repress demonstrations and will not shy away from using excessive force against its citizens. The revolt in Tunisia and Egypt was peaceful because the military remained neutral in the standoff between the government and the protesters. In China, the military is under the firm control of the Communist regime. As a result, China has a strong ability to preempt and contain dissent. In recent years, China has successfully suppressed anti-China agitations in Tibet and Xinjiang region.
On the other hand, China has been extremely cautious in maintaining a reputation as a responsible power since the Tiananmen incident, which resulted in considerable loss of international prestige. In addition, given the Communist regime’s desire for economic stability and social harmony in the country, any signs of turmoil and risk of instability for a long period could force them to chart a new path of reforms. Without reforms China could be sitting on the edge of another revolution.