China Power

No, China Isn’t Like Egypt

The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have prompted some to wonder if China could go the same way. It won’t.

The ripple effects of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution last month have exceeded the world's expectations—shortly after it took place, similar protests occurred in Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Jordan. But it’s the ongoing unrest in Egypt that has really captured the interest of the international media—and the world.

Faced with some of the same social and economic development issues as Tunisia and Egypt, Western commentators and analysts have found it tempting to speculate whether China will be the next Egypt.

But there are plenty of good reasons why it won’t.

First, China's economic development has improved the lives of huge swathes of the population. China's double-digit economic growth rate is far higher than that of Egypt, Tunisia or other Arab nations, while Egypt has a significantly higher proportion of its population living below the poverty line than China does. All this means that despite China’s many social problems, most Chinese still ultimately hope for stability to allow the country to continue on its development path.

Another difference is that the Chinese government has a much tighter political grip over the country than was the case in Tunisia and Egypt. For a start, China's military doesn’t ‘belong’ to the state—rather, it falls under the direct leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. China also has no truly independent major newspapers or TV stations and there’s no political opposition, with any political opponents either forced underground, into exile overseas, or simply thrown into jail. Ordinary Chinese just don’t have any so-called democracy leaders to follow.

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In addition, China has a very different political culture from these other revolutionary states. Tunisia and Egypt have both experienced extended periods under Western colonial rule, and so their politics (and expectations for democracy) have been influenced accordingly.

This means that the key to reform in China lies not in the streets, but from within the Communist Party itself. China's transformation can be smooth if a way is found to promote intellectuals inside the party who really understand the trends of a developing society.

Who knows? There might be some small steps taken on the path to reform after the CCP celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2012. Just don’t expect a colour revolution.