China is girding itself for angry people. Neighbors need to worry.
On 1 July the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress passed a new national security law. The draft summarises all kinds of domestic and international risks, and the text was kept vague, inviting international analysts to presume a legal basis for more international assertiveness by Beijing.
But the timing, broad-brush content and assertion of Party control hint at the fact that domestic purposes were the main rationale behind the document. More precisely, in view of power shifts between factions and institutions in the recent past, the Communist Party has attempted to strengthen the central role of the president in the security sector. At the same time, the leadership anticipates greater social problems and instability. The slowdown of economic development and necessary structural reforms will increase social hardship.
I think it is a mistake to view this as a domestic problem. Communists are different. All threats to their control are part of a continuum of threats not neatly divided between foreign and domestic.
As I wrote when China set up a new state security committee:
This makes me nervous. If all events whether in Peking, Tibet, or abroad are viewed as a continuum of threats to the Chinese Communist Party, what might the Chinese do abroad if the threats to party control are something we might see as just an internal matter and nothing for us to worry about?
And remember that China has long viewed Taiwan as an internal matter rather than an international issue. Will all issues now be a potential spark for war?
If large-scale unrest--common enough in China--takes place and appears to threaten party control--could China initiate a war abroad believing nationalism will smother the internal fissures?
If mass rioting that challenges party legitimacy breaks out, mass arrests and shootings might be the response.
Or it could be a short and glorious war to rally the people against a foreign threat.