Fear and repression in China

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
Nicholas Kristof:

Since China is in the middle of its harshest crackdown on independent thought in two decades, I thought that on this visit I might write about a woman named Cheng Jianping who is imprisoned for tweeting.

Ms. Cheng was arrested on what was supposed to have been her wedding day last fall for sending a single sarcastic Twitter message that included the words “charge, angry youth.” The government, lacking a sense of humor, sentenced her to a year in labor camp.

So I tried to interview her fiancé, Hua Chunhui, but it turns out that Mr. Hua was recently arrested and imprisoned as well. That’s the way it goes in China these days. The government’s crackdown is rippling through the country, undercutting China’s prodigious growth and representing the harshest clampdown since the crushing of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989.

The reason? Surprising as it may seem, the government is worried that China could become the next Egypt or Tunisia, unless security forces act early and ruthlessly.

“Of course, they’re scared that the same thing might happen here,” one Chinese friend with family and professional ties to top leaders told me. A family member of another Chinese leader put it this way: “They’re just terrified. That’s why they’re cracking down.”

Yet another official says that the Politburo internalized a basic lesson from the Tiananmen movement: It’s crucial to suppress protests early, before they gain traction. He says that from China’s point of view, the mistake that autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia made was not cracking down earlier and harder.

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Repression seems to work for them, but it tells you something about the weakness of the government that they are so afraid of their own people. It is a vulnerability the US could exploit if we really were trying to undermine the Chicom regime. Unfortunately, they also overestimate the competence of the current government in the US, or they would not be so afraid.
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