17 March 2008

China, T1bet, and crisis management

China is an interesting place sometimes. The Tibet incident has brought out the total confusion and indecisiveness of Chinese crisis management. In Beijing, for example, every time the BBC runs a story about Tibet, the channel gets blocked. But in some other Chinese cities, BBC is not blocked at all. Some websites and stories about Tibet are being blocked, others are not. I can post to my blog, but cannot read it. Some email is blocked (particularly outgoing), but incoming is just fine. Not related to Tibet, but also notable is that I cannot read any of the major Taiwanese newspapers... except the China Pot. I guess the Taiwanese tricked Beijing by calling it "China" Post, as opposed to "Taiwan" post...

The Tibet protests really do expose one of the longstanding problems of China – its problems with assimilating the populations of the buffer zones. The Tibetans haven't become part of China. Rather they have been kept under control by military garrisons and the government-arranged influx of Han Chinese and Hui Muslims. The opening of the Tibet railway was seen as a major blow to the Tibetans, as it would open the floodgates to the Han and Hui, further diluting the Tibetan population in Tibet.

With the annual remembrance of the 1959 uprising, this year things got out of hand. There was an explosion of the built-up socio-economic tensions. Like the LA riots, we saw one ethnic population target another, primarily hitting economic interests (shops and the like) that represented the economic power of the immigrants (and reminded about the economic weakness of the natives). China has clamped down in Lhasa for now, though there are reports of sympathy unrest in other cities in Tibet and neighboring provinces. And Beijing has mostly avoided what could have been a considerable increase in political pressure from the world – sure, BBC is running plenty of stories of Tibet now, but the U.S. government is pre-occupied with the economy, and in general mot governments have taken a mild stance so as not to create undue tensions or impact the coming Olympics.

But dodging a bullet is not the same as being out of trouble. China is a pressure cooker of socio-economic crises, and the lid is likely to blow off in the years after the Olympics. The mixed openness and control that led up to the Olympics, and the booming economic benefits for a few in the South and East are making the crisis for the CPC nearly unavoidable. They have long been capable of management – deal with the immediate and hope the future stays distant – but that will not serve forever. That was how Tiananmen got out of hand; they refused to address the issue and delayed response until the only response left was unfortunate.

The Olympics are swell, but they do not change the reality in China.

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