Guest Post by Oliver Lough: 1984? They Wish!


Oliver Lough is a research intern at the New America Foundation.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Willy Lam broke a disturbing story on China’s burgeoning police state:

“On December 2, senior state-security personnel met in Tianjin to fine-tune a new nationwide antisubversion network to help safeguard the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling status. Official media says the network is aimed at fighting “the redoubled threats of separatism, infiltration and subversion” and stopping the leakage of state secrets.

In the words of State Security Minister Geng Huichang, the new effort aims to “win the ‘people’s warfare’ in safeguarding national security and ensuring socio-political stability under new conditions.” Big and medium-sized cities are setting up state security “leading groups” which will be headed by municipal Party secretaries. These leading groups set the agenda for police and security departments, and ensure that enough vigilantes and voluntary informants can be recruited from the populace.”
It could be lifted from the pages of 1984. An informant in every house, gangs of pro-government thugs kicking dissenters into line, police chiefs waging ‘people’s warfare’ against subversive elements. It’s certainly a sinister prospect. Fortunately for just about everyone, this bout of nostalgia for totalitarian days of yore is also likely to prove unworkable.
A great deal has been made over the past couple of years about China’s whizz-kid attempts to control the flow of information online, or the brutal treatment of high-profile dissidents. But while such incidents deserve attention, they mask the fact that Beijing’s ability to project its power into the nooks and crannies of everyday life was compromised years ago.
Ever since China adopted a pseudo-federal model of government back in the 1980’s, state authority has become severely fragmented. Public security services are now largely organized, monitored and funded at a local level, meaning that they are often under-funded and, as a recent scandal in the mega-city of Chongqing has shown, astonishingly corrupt. Directives from Beijing are now skewed and often plain ignored as they filter through various levels of competing interests.
The police aren’t the only ones not coming to heel. When it comes to managing the economy, Beijing often finds itself running into problems with the locals. In full collusion with regional governments, businesses regularly start work on projects they know are unlikely to meet with central approval in the hope that, by the time anyone notices, calling a halt to them will be more trouble than it’s worth. Earlier this year, China’s premier Wen Jiabao was forced for a second time to personally block the ‘illegal’ construction of several multi-million dollar dam projects in the south of the country.
There is no doubt that China is still run by a domineering regime capable of some very unpleasant things, but it would be a mistake to imagine that whenever Beijing snaps it’s fingers, the entire country springs to attention. Behind the overblown pomposity of Minister Geng’s remarks, there is perhaps more than a little hint of wishful thinking. The Stasi rarely dwelt on their grand plans for ‘ensuring socio-political stability’ – they were far too busy knocking on doors in the middle of the night.
— Oliver Lough


One comment on “Guest Post by Oliver Lough: 1984? They Wish!

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *