Thursday, February 24, 2011

China: A new youth, Netizen led revolution may be in the offing in China

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The seriousness with which China has been viewing the dangers of a new revolution in China inspired by the people's uprising in Egypt would be evident from the number of high-level meetings---some of them attended by President Hu Jintao himself--- that have been held in Beijing under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party and the Government to discuss how to preserve social harmony and stability. Repeated calls are being made for better social management.

2. Unfortunately, in their view as expressed at these meetings, better social management does not mean a greater political liberalisation, but more effective controls over freedom of expression. However, the need to give the people an opportunity to let out steam is grudgingly recognised, but the leadership is confused as to how to do this. Appeals are being made through media outlets such as the party-controlled "Global Times" for greater political maturity. By greater political maturity, one means a greater willingness on the part of the people to recognise that there cannot be social harmony and stability without internal discipline and that the party and the Government have a legitimate obligation to maintain discipline.

3. The role of the Internet in encouraging a new youth-led revolution different from the proletariat-led revolution of the USSR and the peasant-led revolution of China has made the Chinese leaders realise with concern the stealth power of the Internet. China has greater Internet penetration than any other country in the Asian-African region. It has a larger community of Netizens than even India. Chinese leaders and security agencies are well-versed in controlling old means of public expression such as the print media, the radio and the TV. They thought they could control with equal effectiveness the new stealth power of the Internet. They have started apprehending that they may not be able to do so and that a danger to their social stability could arise from the inexorablty growing community of Netizens.

4. Stopping the growth of this community is no longer feasible. Before someone else seeks to mobilise this community for promoting a new revolution, the Government should mobilise it to ensure the maintenance of stability and harmony. How to do this? That is the question being discussed at these meetings. It is being pointed out that there cannot be better social management without better Internet management. The security agencies are being advised to pay greater attention to this.

5. Mao Zedong believed that power grows out of the barrel of the gun. Deng Xiao-ping believed that power grows out of the money purse. The present Chinese leadership has realised that youth power grows out of the Internet. How to make the Internet an engine for gradual, controlled political change while maintaining stability instead of becoming an engine for a new Revolution?

6. How will the Chinese community of Netizens respond to the suble attempts being made by the Party and the Government to maintain and further strengthen Internet management ostensiblty for preserving the vast economic gains made by the country since 1978? The answer to this question will determine how far and for how long internal peace, stability and harmony as defined by the party can be maintained.

7. A new youth, Netizen led revolution may be in the offing in China. Will it suddenly burst out as did the revolution in Egypt or will it be creeping and inexorable? Let us wait and watch.

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.