Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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What Does the Chinese Politburo Know?

by Elliott Abrams
January 21, 2012

China's new Politburo Standing Committee Members (from L to R) Zhou Yongkang, Li Keqiang, Li Changchun, Wen Jiabao, Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Jia Qinglin, Xi Jinping and He Guoqiang line up at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 22, 2007. China's new Politburo Standing Committee Members (from L to R) Zhou Yongkang, Li Keqiang, Li Changchun, Wen Jiabao, Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Jia Qinglin, Xi Jinping and He Guoqiang line up at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 22, 2007. (Courtesy REUTERS/David Gray)

 

This week brought yet more prison terms for yet more Chinese dissidents.  As the Washington Post reported,

Chinese writer and activist Li Tie was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “inciting subversion,” his family members said Thursday. Li is the third high-profile dissident handed a lengthy term in the past few weeks….Like two activists sentenced last month, Li was prosecuted for essays he posted on the Internet demanding greater democracy. The convictions indicate that the government in Beijing sees online treatises — and the followers they might garner — as a serious threat to China’s political and social stability.

On Dec. 26, a court in Guizhou province sentenced a veteran human rights campaigner, Chen Xi, to 10 years in prison. Three days earlier in Sichuan province, activist Chen Wei was sentenced to nine years. Both were convicted of “inciting subversion of state power.” Another activist, Zhu Yufu, was charged this week with the same crime after he posted a poem online titled “It’s Time,” which urges the Chinese people to stand up for their freedoms.

Many Western observers see China as a mighty fortress, growing in economic and military strength, yet its own rulers see a handful of bloggers as “a serious threat to China’s political and social stability.” The so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011 is a reminder that the Chinese rulers are right: regimes that appear absolutely solid from the outside can not only appear but actually be rotten and weak when viewed from the inside. When I served at the National Security Council I had numerous opportunitiues to observe Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak. While academics and analysts were certain that the regime in Egypt was stable (and Secretary of State Clinton called it stable, presumably on the very best advice available to her, just two weeks before Mubarak fell) it was striking to me that Mubarak  never regarded it that way. All he needed to see was a small bread riot in some town no-one had ever heard of, and he was spending millions on greater food subsidies to lower the price of bread. He knew very well that his regime lacked legitimacy and ruled by force alone.

And that is what the Chinese rulers know as well. They jail men and women for ten years for posting an essay on the internet because they are well aware of the tenuousness of their hold on the minds of the Chinese people. Their communist training has taught them that a revolution that appears impossible before it takes place will be considered historically inevitable once it has happened–and their knowledge of Chinese history has taught them that political change is indeed possible. The lesson for us is not to regard tyranny as China’s inevitable and permanent state, and instead to continue to support the desire for freedom that is so evident there.

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  • Posted by MethanP

    I have long cautioned about the fallacy of Chinese stability. I always thought China was a fools mission as long as the current corrupt regime stayed in power. (Ultimately, as Egypt shows, its all about corruption). Nice to know the Chinese kleptocracy agrees. Nice to see I agree with you, too.

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