Monday, February 28, 2011


China's rise in raw power makes their facade seem very imposing. That the rise came from a very low level and that the Chinese have a long way to go to match the depth and breadth of Western countries that have already risen makes that rise less than it appears is another matter. The image is impressive. And the Chinese certainly project an air of believing the talk of their rise to dominance. Indeed, it seems inconceivable that anything could derail the rise of China, even if the rate of growth in recent decades can't be sustained.

But that air of confidence is shown to be brittle by the heavy-handed response of the Chinese to fairly pathetic calls for protests:

An online call for anti-government protests across China on Sunday instead brought an emphatic show of force by police determined to deter any buds of the kind of unrest that has shaken the Middle East.

Lines of police checked passers-by and warned away foreign photo journalists in downtown Beijing and Shanghai after a U.S.-based Chinese website spread calls for Chinese people to emulate the "Jasmine Revolution" sweeping the Middle East and stage gatherings in support of democratic change.

Officials from China's ruling Communist Party have dismissed the idea that they could be hit by protests like those that have rippled across the Middle East.

But a rash of detentions and censorship of online discussion of the Middle East have shown that Beijing is deeply nervous about any signs of opposition to its one-party rule.

Deeply nervous, indeed, as I wrote recently:

Is it a rising China or an uprising China? I mean, you'd think a country supposedly destined to stand astride the world as a Colossus wouldn't sweat so much over feeble voices calling for protests. Doesn't it make the authorities look weaker to react so strongly to something so small?

If the Chinese rulers are this nervous, perhaps we shouldn't think of China as stable as we assume.