China is not Tunisia or Egypt.
2. That is the message that the Chinese political leadership headed by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is seeking to send across to its own people and the world as the Communist Party of China (CPC) began on July 1 a month-long celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CPC.
3.It was not the celebration of a self-confident leadership reassured of the future political stability and economic prosperity of China and the continuing loyalty of the people to the party and their continued acceptance of its vanguard role.
4. It was the celebration of a nervous leadership all the time watching over its shoulders to see whether the undoubted economic prosperity achieved by China would be adequate to keep the people away from demands for political freedom.
5. The nervousness of the leadership would be evident from the fact that whereas the 90th anniversary of the CPC, which falls in 2011, is being celebrated with great fanfare, the more significant 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution, which marked the success of the revolt of the ruled over the rulers, is not being observed in a similar manner.
6. The silence of the leadership over the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution has been noted by sections of China’s vast netizen community. In response to their curiosity as to why this relative silence over the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolt against the ruled, one of the readers’ fora of the CPC-controlled “People’s Daily” has found itself forced to make a brief reference to this unexplained and ununderstood silence.
7. A posting in one of the fora of the “People’s Daily” on July 1 said: “There is another significant anniversary this year of a milestone on the way to this moment of economic power: the centenary of the 1911 revolution, which brought an end to the Qing dynasty and with it some 2,000 years of imperial tradition. Unlike the birthday of the party, however, it is being oddly underplayed. A century later the Communist party's rule has begun to resemble the system that 1911's accidental revolutionaries overthrew: a large and privileged bureaucracy, hereditary privileges in the ruling elite, a mass of toiling workers and farmers – and, finally, the embrace of Confucius, the man the revolutionaries rejected 100 years ago, as someone with a lot to say about hierarchical government. Confucian influence, however, remains. The official doctrine today is not class struggle but harmony.”
8. While the vanguard role of the CPC might have brought the country forward to take its place as an emerging global power and as an economic power house, politically it has taken the country back to 1911 with basic political freedoms denied to people in the interest of social harmony and continuing 10 per cent plus growth rate.
9. The revolt of 1911 against the imperial rulers has been described as an accidental revolution. Can there be another accidental revolution against the rulers of present-day China by people inspired by the accidental revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt?
10. That is the fear in the minds of the Chinese leaders as they observe with pomp and pageantry the 90th anniversary of the CPC. A forum of the “People’s Daily” of June 30 quoted Ben Simpfendorfer, the managing director of Silk Road Associates, as saying:: "Unlike leaders in many developing economies, China's leaders understand the importance of giving back to the population, rather than just taking. In short, China is no Tunisia." It added: “That's a conclusion shared by most academics inside the party and overseas and one that's likely to please the wealthy businessman who was touring Jinggangshan. He said he didn't want to see China tossed by the turmoil now sweeping the Arab world. It quoted a woman companion of the businessman as saying: “I don't care who the ruler is, so long as we live well."
11. Living well is more important than living with self-respect. The CPC has enabled the people to live well. Its achievements should not be jeopardised by any premature talk of political freedoms and individual liberties.
12. The focus is on the power of the economic machine created under the leadership of the CPC which has enabled a 10 per cent plus growth rate year after year for a decade. Any talk of the political future of the Chinese society is discouraged even though Prime Minister Wen continues referring to the need for political reforms as he was doing last year.
13. It is interesting to note the differences in nuances in the statements made in connection with the anniversary by President Hu and Prime Minister Wen. Inaugurating the celebrations on July 1, Hu said as stated by the official Xinhua news agency:
“The Communist Party of China (CPC), chosen by history and the people, has accomplished three major events since its formation 90 years ago.
“The first is that the CPC, relying on the people, completed the new-democratic revolution, winning national independence and liberation of the people.
“The second is that the CPC completed the socialist revolution and established the basic socialist system.
“The third is that the Party carried out a great new revolution of reform and opening up, creating, upholding, and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics.
"These three major events reshaped the future and destiny of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation."
14. Talking in London, where he was on an official visit, on June 27, Wen said: “ The best way to eradicate corruption, unfair income distribution and other ills in China is to firmly advance political structural reform and build socialist democracy under the rule of law."
15. It was an inconvenient reminder to those who are talking as if a 10 per cent plus growth rate year after year should be the end all and be all of China’s existence. So long as this objective is met, China does not have to worry about the political aspirations of its people, they feel.
16. Wen’s seems to be still a voice in the wilderness harping again and again for over a year now on the need for political reforms to maintain political and social harmony. The Party has been allowing him to say whatever he wants to say, but there seems to be very few takers in the party hierarchy for his views.
17. The fears of March-April that a Jasmine Revolution with Chinese characteristics may sprout in China have dissipated, but nervousness is still there. It is palpable as the Chinese leadership and people celebrate the 90th anniversary of the CPC and play down the importance of the 1911 revolt of the people against the rulers. They keep looking over their shoulders even as they cheer thousands and thousands of men, women and children marching before their eyes singing revolutionary songs. ( 2-7-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @SORBONNE75 )