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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jacqueline Newmyer

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jacqueline Newmyer

Last Build Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2007 00:33:36 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Domestic Instability and Chinese Foreign Policy

Wed, 04 Apr 2007 00:33:36 -0600

Thanks to recent prompts from Beijing, however, Washington has now begun to consider China's litany of internal challenges. Perhaps first on Beijing's list is the potential for instability caused by economic inequality. Chinese officials are quick to bemoan the widening gap between urban magnates and migrant workers - especially in conversations with U.S. officials about China's currency regime. The PRC cannot afford to let the yuan rapidly appreciate, Beijing tells Washington, because any drop in exports would lead to a rise in unemployment among laborers, the most volatile element of society. Even as Hu Jintao has been hard at work promoting his new slogan, "Harmonious Society," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently explained to President Bush that of the 25 million jobs he needed to create per year, he was only managing to supply about 10 million. The regime has managed its financial and economic situation cautiously, but, to be sure, in an era of mass media, the quality-of-life disparity between a Shanghai cadre-cum-real estate mogul and a rural peasant without potable water reduces the CCP's legitimacy and contributes to the possibility of unrest, particularly in the event of an economic slowdown. Second on China's list of domestic threats are challenges from ethnic minority populations - "split-ists" or "separatists" - including Tibetans and Uighur Muslims. In the wake of 9/11, Beijing appealed to Washington for license to squash potential Islamists within the PRC. Since then, Beijing has not only enjoyed a free hand to crack down on local "terrorists" but also proceeded aggressively with initiatives to flood minority regions with Han residents. China's efforts in Tibet appear to have extinguished residual flames of nationalism. Nonetheless, pro-Tibet activists in India, the U.S., and Europe, and Uighur links to Central Asia and the Middle East give Beijing cause to suspect outside powers of abetting internal troublemakers. A third source of instability lies in the rapid rise in religious belief in the PRC. Over two millennia imperial China saw the rise of a congeries of regime-threatening sects that proved most disruptive when they mobilized peasants across different provinces. Today, the regime balks at the inroads that faith is making among wealthy urbanites. Materially prosperous but spiritually dissatisfied business people, including CCP members, are increasingly turning to Christianity as a source of meaning. Beijing has largely viewed Catholics, whose ranks have grown from about 4 million in 1949 to roughly 12 million today, as manageable because of understandings reached between the Vatican and the Communist hierarchy. But from only 1 million believers in 1949, Protestantism now claims about 40 million adherents in China today - the majority of whom are associated with underground churches or, worse, cult-like sectarian movements. Most Chinese Protestants do not belong to a formal organization with which the Party can deal, and some of the biggest churches trace their roots to Western missionary groups or exiled leaders in the U.S. Though none of these groups has ever seriously threatened the CCP's hold on power, in the eyes of Beijing, the menace to stability posed by a domestic religious revival is linked to foreign intervention. Last but not least, the PRC could suffer a secular political uprising led by an assortment of pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and anti-corruption forces. Among Chinese intellectuals at state-sponsored think tanks, debates about how to bolster the regime's legitimacy and safeguard its future increasingly center on the choice between "Westernization" and "Confucianization." Further reforms in the direction of liberal democracy would be seen as moving the PRC toward a "Westernized" future. A rebellion led by would-be democratizers, human rights activists, or anti-corruption protesters would equally be seen as inspired by "the West." (The "Confucianization" path, on the other hand, would draw on China's own traditional political culture to create a bureaucracy populated by a learne[...]