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Turmoil in the Middle East and Prospects for the Chinese Communist Party

Public Security Bureau car at Tiananmen Square; photo by author, 2008

In recent weeks, many in the West, and even some in China, have speculated about the resilience of China’s authoritarianism. Could what happened in Egypt happen in China? (For some U.S. perspectives, see a Forbes.com article by Gordon Chang from January 30th and a Wall Street Journal article by Loretta Chao from a couple weeks ago.) China is clearly playing it safe as it reacts with force to even the smallest hints of protest this week.

The Tiananmen Square massacre remains the template for authoritarian responses to popular pro-democracy movements. “The unity of China is more important than those people in Tiananmen Square,” Muammar Qaddafi said last Tuesday. (In fact, Qaddafi was attempting to justify actions so appalling that even China has voted in favor of a unanimous UN Security Council resolution that said those attacks against civilians “may amount to crimes against humanity.”)

So, what would it take for another revolution in China? And what would China’s communist party (the CCP) be willing or able to do to stay in power?

Here are some things to think about.

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Social Stability and the Legacy of Tiananmen Square
[9 April 2010, Comments Off on Toppled Government in Kyrgyzstan Raises Uncomfortable Memories for Beijing, Tags: , , , , , , , ]

Most commentary on the April 7th protests and apparent collapse of Kyrgyzstan’s government has focused on the Kyrgyz political situation, the failure of the 2005 Tulip Revolution, (former?) president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s autocratic behavior, and the roles of the United States and Russia.

But I want to turn readers’ attention to the relevance of this event for China. And there could even be serious implications for U.S. global economic and political priorities.

This week’s events in Kyrgyzstan parallel, in some ways, China’s own Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Those were also a fairly spontaneous, nation-wide movement responding to both political repression and rising prices. In both 1989 China and 2010 Kyrgyzstan, many policemen and soldiers refused to attack their countrymen. Both culminated in violence in the capital (though the Chinese student protest movement, unlike the Kyrgyz opposition, was unarmed and peaceful).

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