Keeping the people happy

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Saturday, June 7, 2014


OUR giant neighbor up north has been busy lately. What with entering the 12-nautical-mile band of territorial waters around one of the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers and China also claims and calls the Diaoyus. Or chasing and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in an area in the South China Sea that both countries claim. Or giving the G-7 the finger and warning its members not to interfere in China’s territorial disputes.

Its establishment of an oil rig last month in waters also claimed by Vietnam sparked anti-Chinese riots that resulted in Chinese-owned businesses being torched and Beijing evacuating its nationals from the country.

Also last month, China scrambled two pairs of fighter jets that flew “unprecedentedly” close to a Japanese OP-3C surveillance plane and a YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft in airspace both countries claim.

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With all these activities, I guess China wanted to downplay the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in the spring of 1989. Its brutal crackdown on the student-led demonstrations in Beijing which were supported by the city’s residents led to condemnation by the international community and arm embargoes and economic sanctions.

That or it was trying to remind the world that it was right in quashing the uprising. That the then students’ call for “government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the restoration of the workers’ control over industry” would have plunged the country into another civil war or chaos.

That the deaths of thousands of pro-democracy activists can be justified by now having the world’s second largest economy that is poised to take over US. That it has the second highest number of billionaires in US dollars around the world. Or that Shanghai and Beijing are glittering showcases for excess consumerism.

Much has changed in 25 years. But much has stayed the same. After decades of being the antithesis of democracy, the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) shed some of its evil image when Mikhail Gorbachev brought about massive economic, political and social changes. The era of glasnost meant a more open USSR, where there was less censorship and greater freedom of information. This led to the eventual downfall of Soviet communism, which, like a domino effect, paved the way for a similar movement in countries behind the former Iron Curtain.

So you can understand why the rest of the world was glued to their TV sets and watched on CNN as another “evil” regime was about to topple in Beijing. Just years earlier, our very own People Power uprising ousted a 20-year dictatorship. And look where we are now.

Everyone held their breaths as that lone man tried to stop a Type 59 main battle tank in its tracks in the middle of a boulevard. Unwilling to let the death machine pass. (Come to think of it, I’m not really sure what happened to the guy.)

But the proverbial happy ending never came for China. Democracy lost to totalitarianism. Or so it seemed. Somehow, the regime back then, realizing how close it was to losing its grip on power, came up with a social contract that saw a vast improvement in the standard of living for China’s emerging middle class.

According to the McKinsey Quarterly, “more than 75 percent of China’s urban consumers will earn 60,000 to 229,000 renminbi ($9,000 to $34,000) a year” by 2022.

The Chinese government has been able to put a lid on dissent by making sure everyone is busy keeping up with the Changs, or drumming up patriotism by picking fights with wary neighbors. Yeah, that should keep the populace quiet.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 08, 2014.

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