China’s Weakness

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Keith Richburg of the Washington Post writes about the Chinese reaction toward the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo, currently in prison for “inciting subversion of state power”:

Restaurant and bar owners in China have been summoned to local police stations and warned against allowing large gatherings on Friday. Some lawyers, writers and academics have been stopped at airports from boarding their flights; others have been forcibly taken to the countryside. Known activists are under house arrest. And today, several foreign media Web sites and television stations were blocked.

….China’s Communist government has lashed out ferociously since the award was announced, each day ratcheting up the rhetoric. Foreign embassies in Norway have been warned not to attend the Nobel ceremony or risk unspoken “consequences.”

….For all the fury directed outwardly, the fiercest reaction has been internal. Scores of activists, lawyers, professors — even the family members and aging parents of jailed dissidents — have been prohibited from leaving the country in recent days, or placed under house arrest, with their telephone and Internet lines cut. As the date of the Nobel ceremony drew closer, some were also told not to speak to reporters.

I’m trying to decide if this is a sign of strength or weakness. My first instinct is weakness: no country with any real confidence in itself or its future would overreact this insanely. But then I think back to other rising powers and I’m not so sure. This kind of furious jingoism is actually pretty common among countries feeling their oats, isn’t it? (Though perhaps, in recent times anyway, without the whole police state aspect of it.)

So….I’m not sure. Overall, I think the Chinese have been playing their hand badly over the past few years, and it’s going to bite them pretty hard the first time their economy starts to slow down a bit, which is almost inevitable sometime over the next decade or two. I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about this, though.

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