Most of us remember the fall of the Soviet Union, which was predicted by exactly nobody in our intelligence institutions, many of whom were predicting exactly the opposite. Of course the conditions for its fall were created by a B list actor, an electrician in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, and a Polish priest in Rome. They were helped by a few basic laws of economics and human nature, and the hubris of the vast Soviet bureaucracy, led by the Politburo and the Central Committee.
And to the East was a large and even more backwards country that instituted many of the same draconian economic and social strictures on its people. They had their own trouble with immutable laws of economics and the desire of many people to be free — The Tiananmen Square Massacre was the culmination of months of protests, driven by students but seemingly embraced by many others. But the neo-Mandarins had been looking both east and west, and had begun a program of economic liberalization that they hoped would placate the people and improve the dim prospects of a communist economy. So they put down the revolt with tanks while continuing to loosen their hold on the economy.
Fast forward 30 years and they had created a huge economic engine driven by easy credit and the insatiable desire of the Western world for China’s inexpensive (and cheap) consumer goods. How? By seeing the flaws of a pure socialist command economy and loosening the restrictions on private enterprise.
And it worked. But how to keep control of a populace that has a taste of relative prosperity and can see what freedom looks like just a few miles off China’s coasts? Were they unwittingly prepping the battlespace for another protest like 1989’s? One led not from the universities but from the highest ranks of the communist party and the army?
They can see the problems, the deep-seated, long-standing problems in China, caused by the system of totalitarian dictatorship, which they have. They understand those problems better than the people in the outside world do.
They can see better than most people can see, that this regime is outwardly strong, but inwardly weak. And that it’s in a state of political decay. And that their best hope for preserving their own wealth and power, as well as the best hope for China, is to lead a coup d’etat to remove Xi Jinping and to launch China into a democratic transition.
Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?
But it is not to be. The rulers of China have embraced several things that will effectively minimize the possibility of any coup attempt, no matter its origins, from being successful.
First and most powerful is Western internet technology that gives them access, and the ability to observe, every form of communication. The police State is alive and well and living in every Chinese smart phone and every computer.
Garside addresses the issue, and his response is a forlorn hope that someday…
We have to find a way of breaking through the extremely efficient system of censorship. Because I believe that when the Chinese people know the truth, they will be outraged to learn the lies they have been fed, generation after generation and the tragedies which have been covered up generation after generation.
That is a noble thought, but the Chinese surveillance state is comprehensive. The gift of Western technology destroyed the advantage that any nascent rebels and revolutionaries might have. Now the Police State can be proactive rather than reactive, so scenes like Tank Man in Tiananmen Squire will no longer be possible.
Second is the example of the Soviet Union. They have a playbook for how to fail, and they have read it, and are acting accordingly. They loosened economic controls to unleash the pent-up desire for a better life, and while they re-tighten those controls now and again, it is a powerful tool to shift the gaze of the Chinese people from Western wealth to Chinese growth and future wealth.
And the third is traditional Chinese nationalism. They may dislike their rulers in Peking, but those rulers are demonizing the West and making them the new enemies of the Chinese people.
We all want to believe that in the natural state of humanity is the desire to to be free, to manage our affairs without interference. And in many people that is the case, but not in all, or in nearly the numbers required to combat China’s comprehensive internal security and its demonstrated comfort with ruthless crackdowns on any who seem to be pushing back against its power.