The fear of instability or even revolution may be the motivation behind China’s ongoing crackdown on rights activists, but there’s a real danger for them that the cure is worse than the disease.
No doubt concerned that the ongoing unrest in the Arab world could spread east, China was quick to crack down on calls for Jasmine rallies in China in February. The overwhelming police response—a huge turnout at key locations and security officers disguised as street cleaners—was part of what is now being described by rights groups as the worst crackdown in decades.
But did it even have to be this way, even by the logic of the Chinese leadership? The latest Pew Research Center survey on global attitudes suggests the answer is a resounding ‘no’.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
According to the survey, 87 percent of Chinese surveyed said that they were satisfied with how things were going in the country, while 91 percent said the economic situation in China was good. These numbers are high by any reckoning, but the key point comes when they are compared with similar responses from Egyptians before Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. In Egypt, only 28 percent of citizens said they were satisfied with the direction of the country, while only 20 percent were upbeat about the economy.
Foreign polling organizations aren’t allowed to ask about Chinese citizens’ appetite for democracy. But it’s clear from these numbers that there was a much bigger swell of discontent from which the protests in Egypt could draw upon. With this in mind, it again begs the question of whether China’s heavy-handed tactics could backfire.