Beijing fears ‘Arab Spring’ could spread in China

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Delegates of the Communist party attending a session in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. Photographer - Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

If US diplomatic cables and intelligence reports are to be believed, Chinese leaders have began asking if uprisings that spread throughout the Arab world could ignite a similar situation in China.

The report revealed that some members of China’s ruling Politburo have began musing whether the bribery and other abuses of power were undermining the Communists Party’s authority. A recent political scandal that surrounds top Communist party leader Bo Xilai has brought internal power struggles within the ruling elite in international spotlight.

The Arab Spring broke out from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya Syria, Yemen and Bahrain after Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, set himself on fire on 17 December 2010.

The report said that, Politburo members feared whether the protests might follow against Chinese provincial politicians who are demanding bribes, local party officials grabbing land, and government services marred by corruption and influence peddling.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be arriving this week in Beijing to discuss on hot issues like North Korea and China’s currency, will find country leaders preoccupied by corruption scandal, slow economic growth and leadership transition.

Tough Time Ahead

The fifth generation of leaders after 1949 revolution under Mao Zedong, will be appointed to take charge of Communist Party later this year. There has been some push after Bo scandal and case against activist Chen Guangcheng who recently sought US protection in Beijing.

There seems to be tough days ahead with both these cases provoking sensitivities in China. The Communist leadership feels that the pressure could ignite Chinese people for revolt against the ruling party which could also effect the country’s stability.

Cheng Li, senior fellow at Washington based Brookings Institution and scholar of China’s leadership feels that Chinese people are questioning: “How could the system let someone like that emerge?”

He also added: “As people find corruption is out of control, the very legitimacy of China’s Communist Party is in jeopardy.”

Personal Gain from Power

On 14 April, four days after reporting that Bo had been suspended from Politburo, state run Xinhua News Agency announced: “The spouses and children of some cadres have taken the advantage of their power to seek personal gains, disregarding the law, thus stirring public outcry.”

The news agency also said that the “Communist Party is being confronted with the danger of slackened spirit, incompetence, divorced relations from the people, inactivity and corruption.”

The Beijing Uprising

Some reports suggest there are signs of the protest taking place in different parts of Beijing. Weeks after the Tunisian incident protesters gathered outside McDonald’s restaurant in Beijing. However, the government crackdown protest ended quickly, but the 20 February 2011 uprising, dubbed as Jasmine Revolution, kept running on Chinese social media, US officials claimed.

Many scholars and leaders are surprised to see an open discussion taking place in a Communist country. Kenneth Lieberthal, scholar at Brookings Institute said: “They’ve never seen such an open discussion of political scandal in Chinese social media and among people they meet.”

Bo Controversy

Bo has been in headlines for all the wrong reasons including violation of party discipline, his wife Gu Kailai is also under arrest on suspicion involvement in murdering British businessman.

However, Chinese leadership does not want the investigation to go too far and present Bo as a ‘bad apple’. Some Western observers claim the ruling party is trying to make this look as a good news story, to persuade people that officials at the highest national level are honest.

James Sasser, former Democratic senator from Tennessee and US ambassador to Beijing described Bo as “an outlier, almost a deviant from the stereotype” of a circumspect Chinese communist leader.

“Bo Xilai was playing games that are not normal in China, promoting his brand name, his own legitimacy, running his own public relations campaign, right up to end when he gave his own press briefing at National People Conference in March giving himself spotlight at the annual event,” said Douglas Paal, vice president at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

He also said that Chinese official media may pile on revealing secret histories of Bo’s family and associates, and they have already received directives to denounce Bo and Gu.

Some China analysts and US officials insist Bo wasn’t unique with his links between political power and family wealth. If full investigation takes place, it would reveal his tie up with state-owned military enterprise and banks that helped him land $159 billion and financed his projects.

Bo is the son of founder of Communist Party, whereas Gu is a daughter of well-known Chinese revolutionary general. Both being the members of elite cadre of ‘Princelings’, had the privilege of being high party leader holding senior position in China government.

Source: Bloomberg

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