China: The Enemy Inside


September 22, 2007: China's primary threat is not the United States, or any other foreign power, but internal disorder. There are more angry people in China every day, and the government knows that this could blossom into widespread uprisings. It's happened so many times before in Chinese history, and Chinese leaders are always looking over their shoulders at the past.

There are fewer tools available to deal with this, than there were a decade ago. The government has lost the most, but not all, control over the media because of cell phones and the Internet. Economic prosperity has been uneven, with the minority of Chinese living near the coast earning more than three times what the poor farmers in the interior make. The gap is growing. Because the government no longer tightly controls mass media, the 700 million Chinese of the less wealthy interior, are constantly reminded of their situation. Three million troops and security personnel may not be enough to deal with widespread unrest among this population.

The government is pouring more money into economic growth programs for the interior, but the problems are too large for this to work. Moreover, the biggest complaint is about corrupt government officials, who are more interested in enriching themselves, than in taking care of "the people." So the government is protecting itself in other ways. The military and police have gotten raises and new uniforms. Higher recruiting standards are in force, as are more anti-corruption efforts in the military and police. New regulations give police more control over mass gatherings. Each year, there are about 14,000 instances when a thousand or more people gather together (usually for entertainment purposes, like sporting events). From now on, anyone putting on an event of this size will have to give the police more advance notice, and more details. This will enable the police to more easily shut down large gatherings, which could spin out of control in times of widespread unrest.

The government sees religion as a constant threat. While Chinese are free to worship anyway they want, the government picks religious leaders, and imposes discipline. Thus the ongoing war against Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism. Both of these religions refuse to accept government control and are persecuted. But the persecution has not wiped out these two movements, and this, government officials know, sets a dangerous example for other Chinese. Throughout Chinese history, governments have been overthrown by religious movements, that harnessed and directed mass discontent.

One interesting strategy, meant to provide more economic opportunities for Chinese, and assure supplies of raw materials, is the increasing investments in poor, but resource rich, parts of the world. The government is investing $5 billion in Congo, which is still coping with a civil war, and even in Somalia, which has suffered two decades of civil disorder. Throughout Asia, the Pacific islands, Africa and Latin America, Chinese diplomats and businessmen are ready to deal. China has established itself as the investor of last resort. It's risky, but the payoffs can be spectacular. Thousands of young Chinese take jobs working in their foreign hot-spots, seeking economic opportunities they cannot find at home (because of competition, or lack of opportunity because they live in a depressed interior region). China still has some credibility in poor parts of the world. China is still seen by many as the "Land of Mao and Revolution." Moreover, when the Chinese bring in their own people to implement foreign aid deals, the Chinese workers are a lot cheaper than the ones Western aid attracts. For many poor parts of the world, Chinese investments are seen as more productive than Western ones. This may not be the case in the long run, but for the moment, the Chinese are making the most of their edge.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close