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China’s Trump Card – Stability

With growing unrest in the Middle East, China’s gov’t has been a bit more on edge than usual. News of what is happening in Libya and elsewhere is pretty hard to come by. The official gov’t position on Libya is that the violence should end, but is purposefully vague as to what that means.

The argument I feel like I have been bludgeoned with this last week is “stability” (it’s my own fault for reading the People’s Daily every morning). On the front page of the People’s Daily website today we have headlines like “World Craves for Peace, Stability”, “Crack Nut with Tenderness – China seeks soft approach to social stability”, “The Leadership and Stellar Growth”, along with several other gag inducing buzz words.

The message is clear: stability means growth, and only the Party can provide that stability.

This is just part of the media blitz that comes in the run up to China’s two most important annual meetings, the National People’s Congress, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Note: During this time it is common practice for newspapers to abstain from publishing anything that could appear to be negative on their front pages.

So what are the government’s top concerns heading into these meetings that will set the agenda for the next year? (based on their online survey, and past headlines)

The top eight concerns are: 1)Measures to boost economic development 2)Quality supervision on food and drugs 3)Employment of college students 4)Environmental protection 5)Widening gap between rich and poor 6)Anti-corruption 7)Medical reform 8)Measures to bring housing prices under control.

Here’s the part that may come as a surprise, except for number 1, all of those issues have been taken up by activists in the last few months (read between the lines). It is no secret that these are the very issues that would affect China’s precious stability.

A few more things to watch for with China in the next year include:

  • Cutting investments to highly polluting factories, and improving enforcement of current laws
  • Further publicizing stories about gov’t officials using the internet to improve their relationship with their public (this is worthy of a full post)
  • China’s increasing role in international affairs (we might finally see them do something besides drag their feet on global warming and North Korea, but is the West ready for it?)
  • Focused attempts to promote China’s image overseas


10 Comments

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  2. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    Great post Tom – lots of food for thought there. I did a 12 week “Survival Chinese” course last year. It was run by the Confucius Institute in Edinburgh. I understand that this organisation has branches all over the world, dedicated to promoting Chinese language and culture. It was a good course and I enjoyed it, even though the six students had reduced to three by the end – a reflection I think on the difficulty laowai have in learning Mandarin.

    • Tom says:

      When I took Chinese in college, there were 100 for first year, 30 for second year and about 10 for third year. It is a demanding language if you really want to be proficient.
      Confucius institutes are a big part of China’s soft power game, and much more effective than their attempts at making CCTV a global news source.

      • Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

        I read “Crack nut with tenderness” with great interest as I was a social worker before I retired. I am very aware that Chinese people “somatise” their feelings. I am sure that you see this at the hospital. People who are unhappy because of difficulties in their personal lives buy all sorts of tonics and pills. Mental health issues are not addressed and domestic violence and abuse result. It’s good to read about the project in Guangzhou for the schoolchildren. I’d love you to write more about the mental health issues. You have touched on this subject a few times already.

  3. Chopstik says:

    And let’s face it, stability is not an over-rated term when it comes to China. The events of 22 years ago were done in order to maintain “stability” and, for the most part, has been generally accepted among much of the younger public who does not know any better. The 10 years of chaos (20 years prior to the aforementioned event) add more substance to that argument. The fact that both of those events were either initiated by or in response to government actions is probably rarely mentioned in most official histories. And yet, the stability that has more or less existed since then has given rise to what many consider to be the next major world power.

    However, that stability (as the government knows well) is often ephemeral and fragile at best which is why they are wont to avoid any mention of things that might disturb that harmony. The problem is that the stability will only last so long as the trend toward economic prosperity (at the expense of other things) continues upward; and that cannot last forever.

    Additionally, the government cannot keep the lid on information forever. Many people already know of the events in the Middle East and there has been some discussion as to how it may impact China. As you have pointed out earlier, there are not the same sort of problems in China as in many of the affected countries, but all it takes is a spark and there are many of them in China. Analysts did not predict the fall of the Soviet Union. Analysts did not predict the current tidal wave of revolution in the Middle East. It is worth mentioning…

    I only hope that the stability preached ad nauseum by the government is followed when the time of that revolution does come and a transition (should it become necessary) is painless and simple.

    (Hopefully that doesn’t seem too doomsday-like after reading it…)

    • Tom says:

      As usual a lot of good points here Mr. Kuaizi.
      China is making sure that the it feels like economic prosperity. This morning the other headlines were the possibility of a nationwide property tax, which is a very strong move to lower housing prices (they have been saying for a full year that this wouldn’t happen, a desperate measure since nothing else has worked), as well as increasing the salary you can keep tax free (1600 a month up to 2,000 or 2,500 would make people feel wealthier in the face of inflation). The details of these plans will be worked out in the next week or so.
      The timing isn’t right yet for China.

  4. […] With growing unrest in the Middle East, China’s gov’t has been a bit more on edge than usual. News of what is happening in Libya and elsewhere is pretty hard to come by. The official gov’t position on Libya is … Continue reading → […]

  5. […] These are just a few examples of the dozens of extra workers throughout China. The reasoning behind this I think are two-fold: 1) Labor is cheap, and 2) Low unemployment is good for stability (as I mentioned before the gov’t loves stability). […]

  6. […] I’ve mentioned before, the Party’s greatest concern is stability. It’s a phrase used so often when glossing over corruption, censorship, and human rights […]

  7. […] To me Europe seems to be proof that incentives can be used to encourage people to make the decisions that ultimately benefit the whole society, and China is slowly moving in this same direction (except in the area of consumption). A good first step might be to stop subsidizing oil, which only encourages its use (China now imports a larger percentage of its oil than the US). To me it seems that China must move in a direction that is decidedly more European, but I know that increasing the cost of living would be counter to the Party’s primary objective – Stability. […]

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