H. Numan, who is based in Bangkok, sends this report on the current socio-political crisis in China.
The East is
by H. Numan
Football is a sport. Sometimes a deadly sport. I’m talking of course about what Americans call soccer and the rest of the world football. It even caused a war in 1969. Right now, it’s causing massive uprisings in China. Something nobody, least of all Chinese censors, could foresee. Likely with deadly consequences for the entire world.
Football is hugely popular in China. The Qatar World Championships are shown live on Chinese TV. The censors clearly forgot that TV cameras will show not just the players, but also the crowds. Who are sitting side by side, shoulder to shoulder, without wearing masks. Chinese citizens are not stupid. They probably heard stories about the West being no longer in lockdown. Now they see those ‘wild conspiratorial rumors’ confirmed. By their own government.
At the same time an unfortunate accident happened in Xinjiang. A building caught fire while the city was under lockdown. The residents were welded inside their building. Literally. Municipal workers welded the doors and the locks shut. That happens a lot during Chinese lockdowns. The people had no way to escape the fire, and firemen couldn’t enter the building. Ten people lost their lives.
The news of the fire combined with the championships made the population explode in anger. Ordinary Chinese citizens could see with their own eyes, on state TV, that the outside world was okay after Covid. All their suffering and hardship was, and is, in vain.
This is by far the biggest crisis the Chinese Communist Party has faced since Tiananmen Square in 1989. It may very well grow into something much bigger, because the Tiananmen Square riots were not widespread. Only some students revolted, and only in Beijing and a few other large cities. With, at that time, nearly a billion people, ‘some’ students does quickly add up. Also, nobody outside university campuses knew about Tiananmen Square. It could be controlled. The current riots are all over the country, by enraged ordinary citizens.
There is no formal cadre or leadership in this outburst. People have simply had enough. All over China riots are flaring up. So far, nothing that the police can’t handle. Demonstrating in China is highly illegal. Any gathering of more than a few people is closely watched, and often dispersed quickly by the authorities. Even if it is a ‘long live Xi Jinping!‘ demonstration. With extreme violence, if that becomes necessary. That’s the situation the authorities face right now. How to handle it? Difficult to say. Normally the riot police would be sent in. That probably would make things far worse, causing more and much bigger riots.
They could give in, and ease the Covid lockdown regulations. However, that will very quickly cause more problems. You see, China isn’t a superpower. It is a lower income country with a huge population, some nukes and a very bad public health system. Under the most oppressive regime since Mao.
Xi Jinping, the present chairman just got his tenure extended. He is effectively president-for-life. Technology gave him much more of a grip on society than was possible under Mao or even in the DDR. With much Western support, by means of Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter, China was able to control its population to an extent few people in the West would think possible. Xi Jinping used it to build his own power base. Don’t believe a word of anti-corruption in China. It’s as hollow and meaningless as anti-corruption in Thailand. In Asia, notably China, corruption is endemic. Built into the system. Anti-corruption simply means replacing corrupt officials with your own cronies.