In the wake of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Chinese government is scrambling to head off any potential insurrection. State-run media have helped portray the revolts as irresponsible, while censors restrict access to incendiary rhetoric online. But Beijing shouldn't be too worried, says Francis Fukuyama in The Wall Street Journal, because "China will not catch the Middle Eastern contagion anytime soon." For one thing, China is "more clever and ruthless in its approach to repression" than countries like Egypt, which allowed Facebook and Twitter to play a major role in its revolution. China also has a "huge and increasingly autonomous" army that would "not hesitate to fire on demonstrators" in its defense of the state. Perhaps most importantly, China's vast middle class has gotten more affluent in the past three decades, making its lack of democratic voice that much easier to swallow — unless, of course, there's a recession. There are plenty of other reasons, too. Here, an excerpt:
The fact is that authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East. Though not formally accountable to its people through elections, the Chinese government keeps careful track of popular discontents and often responds through appeasement rather than repression. Beijing is forthright, for example, in acknowledging the country's growing income disparities and for the past few years has sought to mitigate the problem by shifting new investments to the poor interior of the country. When flagrant cases of corruption or abuse appear, like melamine-tainted baby formula or the shoddy school construction revealed by the Sichuan earthquake, the government holds local officials brutally accountable — sometimes by executing them.
Another notable feature of Chinese government is self-enforced leadership turnover. Arab leaders like Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt's Mr. Mubarak and Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi never knew when to quit, hanging on 23, 30, and 41 years, respectively. Since Mao, the Chinese leadership has rigidly adhered to terms of about a decade. Mr. Hu, the current president, is scheduled to step down in 2012, when he is likely to be replaced by Vice President Xi Jinping. Leadership turnover means that there is more policy innovation, in sharp contrast to countries like Tunisia and Egypt, which have been stuck for decades in the rut of crony capitalism.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- 9 things you probably didn't know about the moon
- Why America is duty bound to help Iraqi Christians
- What if The Purge was real?
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace
Subscribe to the Week