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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