Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Authoritarians' Credibility Gap

Whatever the CCP tells us about public support for its policies should be treated with skepticism 

As the Chinese government’s clampdown on human rights lawyers and activists in China intensifies, with 233 of them taken into custody since July 10, the international indignation has been countered by apologists of the regime in Beijing who are quite ready to speak on behalf of the 1.3 billion Chinese. 

Their response usually consists of a variation on the following theme: “Article X on the intensifying repression across China is ‘interesting,’ but the topic is meaningless to most Chinese people because President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption, and his effort to expand China’s international influence, have won a wide support, especially among the grassroots.” 

Besides turning criticism of Beijing’s mechanism of repression into a mere object of curiosity (“interesting”), this stance presumes to “know” what ordinary Chinese think of the matter. It is surely not by accident that their views tend to align perfectly with whatever campaign the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has embarked upon. According to this version of the “truth,” the 1.3 billion Chinese are perfectly fine with their freedom of expression being further curtailed, their access to the Internet increasingly limited, bloggers being silenced, magazines being censored or shut down, instant messaging (e.g., WeChat) coming under greater scrutiny, and lawyers and activists being arrested, disappeared, and possibly subjected to harsh interrogation—as long as Xi fights corruption and expands China’s presence internationally. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

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