On May 19, 2011, President Obama delivered a major foreign policy speech on the Middle East, addressing issues of Arab Spring that has engulfed the region of late, and shows no sign of abating, with the latest victim the Israel occupation of Palestinian land. As predicted Obama challenged the people from Egypt to Iran to rise to the occasion to seek economic and political reform and with it social and cultural change. More simply, the learn and act like the West:
“President BARACK OBAMA: There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It's not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo: It was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it's the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.” (NPR: “Obama Sees Arab Spring As Moment Of Opportunity.” May 19, 2011)
In concrete terms that means: democratic elections, free markets, peaceful relations with neighboring states — including Israel — rights for women and minorities, the rule of law. (NPR: “Obama Sees Arab Spring As Moment Of Opportunity.” May 19, 2011) (“Editorial: President Obama and the Arab Spring,” New York Time May 17, 2011.)
How would China react to Obama's invitation to open up the country to accept more Western political institutions (democracy, rule of law, human rights) is the inquiry of this commentary.
CHINA SPRING - FREEDOM FOR SOME VS STABILITY FOR ALL?
There will be no China Spring (Jasmine Revolution)for the foreseeable future. Why? Let us see what the Chinese leaders think about political reform vs. social stability.
Deng Xiaoping, the putative head of Chinese reform, promises economic and not political reform. More importantly his vision, still very much the Communist Party policy, is one of “crossing river by feeling the stone”, i.e., incremental experimentation, not radical reform.
From the very beginning and up till now, Deng’s reform insisted on “security above all.” To him, without stability there is no reform and nothing can be achieved. The insistent for stability is driven by the fear that China will suffer the fate of the Cultural Revolution and Russia’s disintegration. Intellectually, it is informed by “new authoritarianism” in the 1980s and “neo-conservatism” in the 1990s.
On March 4, 1989 Deng Xiaoping said in a CCP Central Committee meeting,
“The key to our success in modernization, reform and the opening to the outside is stability…. We must counter any forces that threaten stability, not yielding to them or even making any concessions. We must send out a signal that China will tolerate no disturbances.”
On February 26, 1989 Deng Xiaoping told President Bush that: “In China the overriding need is for stability. Without a stable environment, we can accomplish nothing and may even lose what we have gained…. China is now in period when it must concentrate on economic development.”
On May 13, 1989 Deng reiterated the point with CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and Chinese President Yang Shangkun, “I’ve said over and over that we need stability if we’re going to develop.”
The concerned with stability is shared by President Jiang Zemin. On December 18, 1998, Jiang said:
“Stability is the basic premise for reform and development. Without stability, nothing can be achieved…In the process of carrying out reform, opening-up, and developing a socialist market economy, contradictions among the people may notably increase, and some may even become increasingly prominent…We need to nip those factors that undermine social stability in the bud, no matter where they come from.”
Stability was the reason most referenced by Chinese leadership for taking repressive actions against the students on June 4, 1989.
This fixation of stability is not particular to Deng and this generation of Chinese leaders, and is not likely to change soon. Change is not possible because since antiquity, China - emperor and people - is fearful of "luan" or chaos, which is deemed to be bad for the people, justifying rebellion, and seen as failure of governance (emperor), calling for his removal. A good emperor is one that can maintain social order and political stability, at all time and with all costs, if need be.
In support of the above observation is that Chinese rulers, then as now, is charged with delivery of people living ("minsheng") and not people democracy ("minzhu"). (The Chinese want to be fed by the government. The Westerners want to be free from the government.) (There is some strong evidence that in the US President is elected to the office, for economic performance, not political reform.)
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
In 2011 and foreseeable future, the stability issue that preoccupy the Chinese leadership is in how to deal with antagonistic vs. non-antagonistic forces of disorder, the likes of Falun Gong vs. mass incidents. While both kinds of disabling forces need to be put under control, antagonist forces must be mercilessly suppressed and non-antagonistic forces must be masterfully defused.