Will Unrest In Egypt Strengthen The Chinese Government?

Apologies for disagreeing with the wishful thinking of the folks at the Wall Street Journal editorial page–China Isn’t Immune to Nile Fever–but I expect that the protests in Egypt will end up strengthening the Chinese government.

To oversimplify, the Chinese Communist Party is focused on three basic things. First, staying in power. Second, driving the “Great Chinese Renaissance” and all that entails, from improving standards of living to expanding global influence. Third, getting rich, both personally and as a way of maintaining loyalty to the system, so long as it does not threaten the first and second principles.

The longer the Egyptian protests continue, and the greater the chaos and economic damage they bring, the easier the job gets for the propaganda organs in China. Egypt looks like a broken, Third World country, which is not what most Chinese aspire to. See Austin Ramzy’s article in Time Magazine–China: Why Egypt’s Uprising Hardly Stirs Chinese Citizens–for a good discussion of this point.

To the extent that the Chinese security services needed a reminder to stay vigilant, they have one. And they also have a very clear roadmap of how activists can use the Internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter to help catalyze political opposition. They will likely both increase their scrutiny of the Internet, especially “web 2.0” services, and have even more budgetary resources allocated to their online and offline efforts. The Egypt protests will probably dash Facebook’s hopes for a China entry, no matter how much they compromise.

The Chinese leaders are not stupid; quite the opposite in fact. They know that inflation, unaffordable housing, labor issues and corruption are huge problems that may ultimately threaten their rule. Various special interest groups (such as real estate developers, local governments and SOEs) have grown quite powerful and have thwarted progress on some of these issues, especially real estate and further economic liberalization. But the Party has proven itself amazingly resilient over the last six decades, and most analysts underestimate its ability to adapt and neutralize both external and internal threats to its rule.

Egypt may turn out to be the catalyst that leads to the reigning in of the special interest groups that hamper further economic reform and threaten both future economic growth and regime stability. Yes these groups are powerful and have representatives at the highest levels of power, but ultimately no one and no group will be allowed to threaten the Party’s rule.

Note that I make no mention of Western-style political reform. That is not in the cards, and in fact the propaganda apparatus is using the chaos in Egypt to further deposition Western-style political reform as a contributor to instability.

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10 thoughts on “Will Unrest In Egypt Strengthen The Chinese Government?

  1. Quora

  2. The Party has proven amazingly resilient because it has an 88% trust and approval rating (Pew et al) from the Chinese people, who have never had it so good. Stop any Chinese in the street–whether in China or abroad–and ask them about how China is doing today. Watch their chests swell with pride as they discuss its remarkable accomplishments. Let’s get serious: China is doing fine and the Chinese appreciate the fact.

  3. The Party has proven amazingly resilient because it has an 88% trust and approval rating (Pew et al) from the Chinese people, who have never had it so good. Stop any Chinese in the street–whether in China or abroad–and ask them about how China is doing today. Watch their chests swell with pride as they discuss its remarkable accomplishments. Let’s get serious: China is doing fine and the Chinese appreciate the fact.

  4. >88% trust and approval rating
    This is not a big deal and swings wildly depending on the state of the economy.
    I GUARANTEE you if they lose control of inflation, people (even CCP apologists like me) will take a much harder and critical look at gubmint corruption.
    The last time China lost control of inflation, they got the Tiananmen square protests. The last time Germans lost control of inflation, they got Hitler.

  5. >88% trust and approval rating
    This is not a big deal and swings wildly depending on the state of the economy.
    I GUARANTEE you if they lose control of inflation, people (even CCP apologists like me) will take a much harder and critical look at gubmint corruption.
    The last time China lost control of inflation, they got the Tiananmen square protests. The last time Germans lost control of inflation, they got Hitler.

  6. Chinese leaders know well about the problem that may threat their rule, but history is no proof that they are able to overcome the growing influence of special interests and decline of central authority. Rule of the CCP is becoming a public goods for whole party that individual party member tends to ignore. Once a severe economic and financial crisis comes, which is somewhat inevitable given the scale of current massive mal-investment, it is possible that China will enter into a period of growing political dissatisfaction. After all China have very similar social problems like Egypt that is a result of crony capitalism.

    I will argue that political dissatisfaction is not sufficient for uprising. Factors related to the willingness of ordinary people to march into the street may be crucial. Tiananmen is indeed a horrible memory that scare the people from being political active. Events in Egypt may set an encouraging example for the Chinese democratic activists, especially among younger generation. There is some “Yes, we can” sentiment growing. And social movement may look to be not dangerous and fun. This cognitive impact may well play a role once the political dissatisfaction is wide spread.

  7. Chinese leaders know well about the problem that may threat their rule, but history is no proof that they are able to overcome the growing influence of special interests and decline of central authority. Rule of the CCP is becoming a public goods for whole party that individual party member tends to ignore. Once a severe economic and financial crisis comes, which is somewhat inevitable given the scale of current massive mal-investment, it is possible that China will enter into a period of growing political dissatisfaction. After all China have very similar social problems like Egypt that is a result of crony capitalism.

    I will argue that political dissatisfaction is not sufficient for uprising. Factors related to the willingness of ordinary people to march into the street may be crucial. Tiananmen is indeed a horrible memory that scare the people from being political active. Events in Egypt may set an encouraging example for the Chinese democratic activists, especially among younger generation. There is some “Yes, we can” sentiment growing. And social movement may look to be not dangerous and fun. This cognitive impact may well play a role once the political dissatisfaction is wide spread.

  8. El intento de revolución de los jazmines en China | ZaiChina

  9. Quora

  10. Good stuff, agreement all round. Two points:

    “Note that I make no mention of Western-style political reform.”

    And nor should you (or anyone else). It seems to me that nobody worth listening to has advocated ‘western-style’ reform for China for a long time. The only people talking about that are GT op-ed writers out to demonize ‘western’ values at the behest of the Party overlords.

    Second, while acknowledging that China is not about to succumb to the smell of jasmine, I think we should keep in mind the bigger questions down the road. That is, if China’s (ergo, the CCP’s) rise – economic, geopolitical, military – continues on its present curve with no attendant changes to the present nationalistically-driven, self-preservation-at-all-costs policies, what does this say about the quality of human existence our children will be enduring 20/30 years down the line?

    I know, it’s a big question. But I’m a first-time father-to-be, so indulge me. 

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