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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bull in the ‘China’ Shop…

As China forges ahead with relationships to Iran, the European Union, and even Russia the underlying thought is whether they can progress to a position that would challenge the “solitary superpower” label attached to the United States. Internationally, they have continued to develop into an established economical behemoth. However, domestically, there are some serious downplayed problems.
The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune chronicles just a few of the more obvious…

--- Police statistics show the number of public protests reached nearly 60,000 in 2003, an average of 160 per day

--- the Wanzhou uprising, which occurred on Oct. 18, is one of nearly a dozen major incidents of spontaneous social unrest in the past three months, many sparked by government corruption, police abuse and the unequal riches accruing to the powerful and well-connected.
--- That marks an increase of nearly 15 percent over 2002 and was eight times as high as the number recorded a decade ago. Martial law and paramilitary troops are commonly needed to restore order when the police lose control.

---protests of the past have concentrated on single localized issues that seldom gathered support from other down trodden groups. However, that is changing exponentially. A solidarity of multiple protest causes has been generating as of late.

--- China is having more trouble than at any time since the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989 maintaining social order.

--- In November, up to 100,000 farmers in Sichuan Province, frustrated by months of fruitless appeals against a dam project that claimed their land, seized Hanyuan County government offices and barred work on the dam site for days. It took 10,000 paramilitary troops to quell the unrest.

--- A week ago, a village filled with migrant workers in Guangdong erupted into a frenzy of violence after the police caught a 15-year-old migrant stealing a bicycle and beat him to death. Up to 50,000 migrants rioted there, Hong Kong newspapers reported.

--- Luo Gan, the Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of law and order, issued new national guidelines warning that "sudden mass incidents" were increasing during China's economic transition and calling for tighter police measures to prevent unrest.

China has been dependent on cheap labor as well as complete government control in order to present favorable international market conditions. As their citizens wake up to the oppression they have been subjected to by, simply, comparing their stagnant life style and hardships to those of privilege within their own borders, the unrest will escalate. That can’t bode well for the status quo. As workers look for more representation, and by default, more favorable working conditions, the ability to exploit cheap labor is going to dwindle. The United States faced these same issues over five (5) decades ago. While basic workers’ rights were an ethical necessity, the cost to American manufacturing was high. China is starting to learn that lesson one protest at a time.

Some would say that the current escalation of common worker unrest in China is a direct result of their increase in foreign business exposure internally. With those foreign workers came foreign ideas, and fortunes to the privileged Chinese. Some would, also, say that the class differences promote a motivation for those oppressed to challenge the current state of affairs in China. Some would be right about that line of thinking.

For China masses, an increasingly short fuse
By Joseph Kahn The New York Times

WANZHOU, China The encounter, at first, seemed purely pedestrian. A man carrying a bag passed a husband and wife on a sidewalk. The man's bag brushed the woman's pant leg, leaving a trace of mud. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued.
Easily forgettable, except that one of the men, Yu Jikui, was a lowly porter. The other, Hu Quanzong, boasted that he was a ranking government official. Hu beat Yu using the porter's own carrying stick, then threatened to have him killed.
For this Yangtze River port city, the script was incendiary. Onlookers spread word that a senior official had abused a helpless porter. By nightfall, tens of thousands of people had swarmed Wanzhou's central square, where they toppled official vehicles, pummeled police officers and torched City Hall.
Minor street quarrel provokes mass riot. China's Communist Party, obsessed with enforcing social stability, has few worse fears. Yet the Wanzhou uprising, which occurred on Oct. 18, is one of nearly a dozen major incidents of spontaneous social unrest in the past three months, many sparked by government corruption, police abuse and the unequal riches accruing to the powerful and well-connected.
"People can see how corrupt the government is while they barely have enough to eat," said Yu, reflecting on the uprising that made him an instant proletarian hero and later forced him into seclusion. "Our society has a short fuse, just waiting for a spark."


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