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Perhaps more interesting is how they present these incidents to the outside world: They don’t, and they do their best to prevent people from learning about it via the Internet, both in and outside China. Entire cities, home to millions, have all searches for their name blocked by Chinese Internet censors as a way of preventing anyone from searching for news about the violence. And the consequences for speaking to foreign reporters are clearly understood. A recent CNN report about violence in a Chinese industrial city noted that local citizens with first-hand knowledge of the violence knew better than to speak with foreign media.
But simply covering up the problem won’t be enough to make it go away. China is becoming a victim of its own success. Its rapid growth over the last several decades has seen enormous internal migrations of people needed to work in new industries far from their homes. These workers often face housing shortages and low wages, but are daily faced with the reality that millions of other Chinese have ascended to a comfortable middle-class life or become outright millionaires thanks to the low-paid work of these armies of migrants. These migrants are young, disenfranchised, living in highly dense communities and can see no realistic hope for a brighter future. In other words, they share much with the millions of Arabs who rose up against their ruling Middle Eastern regimes over the last several months.
The Chinese are clearly aware of the risk, even going so far as to ban sales of jasmine because of its symbolic link to the Middle East uprisings. China is also the world’s most prolific censor of the Internet, and seeks to prevent disaffected youth from mobilizing in online forums (to be sure, the tech-savvy youth also use the Internet to fight back against the regime). These methods, along with generous applications of raw physical violence, might well be enough to keep the regime on top of any mass protest movement the likes of which have toppled several Middle Eastern leaders. In this, they’ll be aided by hundreds of millions of Chinese who have benefited from the current system and would be just as threatened by a mass uprising as the leadership.
But while the regime may survive, it will not thrive. China can host sporting events, send probes to Mars and launch a dozen aircraft carriers. But nothing will speak to the credibility of the regime like its inability to prevent their own citizens from rioting in the streets week after week, month after month.
Matt Gurney is a columnist and editor at Canada’s National Post. He can be reached on Twitter @mattgurney.
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