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The Subtle Success of China’s ‘Jasmine Revolution’

Displaying China’s thug state for the world to see.

1:14 PM, Mar 8, 2011 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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In response, the Obama administration—which had previously declared attacks on journalists in the Middle East "unacceptable," and which has lately been on a big Internet and press freedom push— has badly fumbled the message. Last week, Press Secretary Jay Carney wanly proclaimed that the White House found reports of journalists in China being beaten and harassed "disturbing," then called on China's "public security authorities" (that is, the very people harassing the journalists) to protect—yes, protect—people from harassment and intimidation. Somewhere in Beijing, China's leaders are chuckling at this sophistry. 

As both Howard French and Evan Osnos noted this week, one of the ironies in all this is that the very reporters that Beijing's thug state has cracked down on have largely spent the past few weeks asserting that "China is not Egypt" and generally downplaying the likelihood of any kind of popular uprising in China. As the crackdown has continued in the face of pretty much non-existent actual protests, some of the journalists who cover China have picked up on the theme that perhaps the whole Jasmine Revolution business was designed not to draw the Chinese people into the streets, but to make the Chinese security apparatus appear ridiculous as it runs around chasing its tail, creating lots of bad press along the way. If that were the case, then the Jasmine Revolution in China has been wildly successful. As French notes: 

At the simplest level, it is hard to understand how a call to protest can be declared a failure if it virtually causes a nation's entire security apparatus to come out in force and to take extraordinary measures of one kind after another, as has happened in China. 

The Chinese police state has exposed its normally hidden steel over the past three weeks, and has paradoxically come across as incredibly insecure and frightened of its own shadow. It is the very opposite of the unstoppable China juggernaut image that has gotten so much attention in recent years. As protest leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Aung San Suu Kyi have repeatedly noted, fear is the biggest obstacle that must be overcome in order for people to stand up for themselves against those controlling the coercive power of the state. By making China’s security apparatus appear to jump to their tune, the Jasmine organizers are taking an important step toward unwinding the fear that serves as background noise for Chinese citizens who may object to the manner in which the regime holds onto its prerogatives. 

As the National Peoples' Congress convenes in Beijing this week, there will be lots of pomp and high-level effort to showcase the regimes proficiency and success in leading the country. But the fragile state also will be vividly on display, looking absolutely terrified by the idea that the Chinese people might be motivated by a small fragrant white flower with a forbidden name.

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