Why is the Chinese government so restrictive

China in the economic crisis : The nervous power

At least the external circuit in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou offered curious pictures: 540 robots practiced synchronous dancing, 29 colorful drones circled above them in formation flight. Otherwise, however, the four and a half hour gala on the state television CCTV for the Chinese New Year at the beginning of February rather caused displeasure among the probably around 700 million (sic!) Viewers.

"This is the boring New Year's gala I've seen in 23 years," wrote a viewer named Xiao Junge on his microblog, highlighting it with photos of his family asleep on the sofa. In a non-representative Internet survey on the Sina Weibo website, 75 percent of China's most important television programs gave only one out of ten possible points. The director had provided the gala with such extensive political propaganda that an Internet user named Yao Di asked himself: "Was that the New Year's gala or the evening news?"

Despondent into the new year

This gala, which has heralded the two-week New Year's celebrations according to the lunar calendar every year since 1983 and at which the majority of the 1.3 billion Chinese traditionally gather in front of the television, has always been a heavily censored and propaganda-riddled program. But in the years before there was more courage, irony and creativity in the performances, also a greater openness. Canadian singer Celine Dion once performed. On the eve of the current monkey year, however, China turned its gaze almost exclusively inward. The director had soldiers from the People's Liberation Army march across the stage several times, repeated recordings of last year's military parade in Beijing, propagated the ethnic unity of China in music and dance performances and quoted political slogans. Even the title of the program promised anything but exciting entertainment: "You and I, our Chinese dream - complete construction of a society with modest prosperity." The title echoes the most important political slogans of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Yes, this New Year's Gala 2016 was discouraged, uptight and streamlined - and thus impressively reflects the state of China in spring 2016.

The Communist Party's claim to leadership is based on economic success

China is currently presenting itself as a nation in economic and political stalemate. Economic problems are increasing, economic reforms are stalling, and politicians are reacting more and more fearfully and restrictively. The authoritarian state's fear of an economic downturn is not surprising, given that the Chinese Communist Party's claim to leadership is based on continued economic success.

Since the violent suppression of the student movement on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, communism in China has lost its ideological foundation. It is now called "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and is a political idea that above all shows great flexibility. Some things that were still unthinkable under Mao Tse-tung are accepted, for example turbo-capitalist excesses. China is now the country with the most dollar billionaires, most recently doubling to 596 within two years. So while the communist ideology is blurring, Deng Xiaoping succeeded as early as the 1990s in basing the sole power of his party on a new deal with the people: We will make you all richer - and you stay out of politics. That worked very well for a long time, the gross domestic product has quadrupled in 20 years, millions of Chinese have escaped poverty. And nothing about this trade has changed to this day.

Party leader Xi Jinping has just renewed the promise. The “Chinese dream”, which the head of state likes to quote, grows out of economic growth and national strength. He even defined economic progress precisely: by 2020, the CCP declared on the occasion of the transfer of power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping in October 2012, the incomes of all Chinese people would double. A wonderful promise for the people - and a huge pressure for the head of state and party. Because keeping this promise, which is not absolutely necessary, is now his biggest problem.

It is true that China has grown into a global economic giant. With a gross domestic product of more than ten trillion US dollars, the People's Republic is the second largest economy in the world and it is only a matter of time (and the method of calculation) before it overtakes the US as the strongest economy. And yet there is cause for concern.

At 6.9 percent, the economy grew more slowly in 2015 than it has been in 25 years. And that's just the government's officially stated figure; some economists believe that six percent growth is more correct. This spring, too, the key figures, such as the 9.8 percent drop in foreign trade volume, do not bode well. The massive outflow of Chinese capital abroad and the record investments by Chinese companies outside of their home countries do not exactly show confidence in the positive development of the Chinese economy. The repeal of the one-child policy, which is intended to bring more workers to the Chinese labor market and to reshape the age pyramid, has not yet had the desired success.

With the economic problems, the number of strikes and wage disputes increases. There is no precise overview of unemployment in China. Numerous factories are closing, but according to official figures the labor market is stable for the time being. The shrinking of the Chinese steel industry could of course cost up to two million jobs. The unknown number of unpaid salaries and bogus employees also endangers social stability.

Part of the downtrend is even intentional. The Chinese government is trying to make its economy more sustainable and is accepting lower growth figures in return. China wants to move away from export- and investment-driven growth towards an economy based on consumption, services and innovation. The markets are to play a “decisive role”, as stated in Xi Jinping's 60-point plan for restructuring the economy. But the reforms are stalling.

China is currently experiencing a structural and adjustment crisis

China is in a structural and adjustment crisis. New growth sectors such as services cannot compensate for the weaknesses of the previous leading sectors. In addition, the government is not consistently implementing its own reform ideas, such as the privatization of the huge, influential state-owned companies. Although the banking reforms have advanced, the state is fundamentally unwilling to give up its control over the economy.

This was particularly evident in the 2015 stock market crash. When the leading index in Shanghai fell by more than 40 percent, the government reacted hectically and nervously. With its control measures, the political leadership has shown that it ultimately has only a very limited willingness to allow the markets to play a “decisive role”. Because what some analysts assessed as the bursting of a stock bubble strongly supported by the government, put the authorities into action. They bought up shares themselves, banned major investors from selling their shares and blamed speculators, journalists and “hostile foreign powers” ​​on the crash. Some allegedly “guilty parties” were arrested, new regulations were introduced - and the next time the shares fell, they were repealed immediately.

The fear of too great an economic downturn - and with it the impending loss of legitimacy - has further hardened the domestic political course of the party leadership. Initially, the anti-corruption campaign in Xi Jinping's own party served to consolidate his power base. In the meantime, however, almost any form of dissent is suppressed, be it through increased censorship and controls on the Chinese Internet, or through stricter laws. In 2015, the authorities arrested more than 200 human rights attorneys, including ordinary law firm employees who only campaigned for the implementation of Chinese law. Some of them are accused of inciting the overthrow of state power.

Foreign citizens are also no longer protected from repression in China

When it comes to repression of dissenting opinions, China can no longer be irritated by the interests of other states. This was shown by the alleged kidnapping of five booksellers from Hong Kong who published books critical of China and possibly worked on new books critical of the government. One of the booksellers also has a British passport, another a Swedish one. The latter disappeared while on vacation in Thailand - and appeared months later on Chinese state television when, in a possibly forced confession, he accused himself of causing a fatal car accident in China years ago.

The short-term disappearance of foreigners is new. This happened to Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights worker who also reappeared on state television and confessed that he had violated China's law, he said, and hurt the feelings of the government and the people. China accuses him of organizing a large-scale conspiracy by "anti-Chinese forces". In the meantime Peter Dahlin was allowed to leave. There is great fear of foreign non-governmental organizations that could help the Chinese people to organize themselves politically. This is one of the reasons why a law that has been criticized around the world is to be passed at the National People's Congress in March, which controls and restricts foreign non-governmental organizations in China even more closely.

Just don't stand out negatively

The fact that foreigners are no longer safe from repression shows the Chinese government's increased awareness of power. This “self-confident authoritarianism” is an expression of increased nervousness and insecurity.

The political leadership is now relying even more on a policy of deterrence. Killing the chicken to scare the monkey is what this method is called in China. And it works. Chinese lawyers are now wondering whether they want to get involved in the field of human rights. Foreign non-governmental organizations are unsettled. But the deterrent may even work too well. Because China's decision-makers in politics and business are now holding back fearfully in order not to attract negative attention. Admittedly, this atmosphere is hardly suitable for implementing far-reaching political and economic reforms. Instead, it paralyzes the forces.

It is still unclear in which direction the country is heading. The Chinese government can certainly be trusted to be able to overcome this economic challenge thanks to the great flexibility it has often demonstrated in the past. But it is equally possible that the downturn could develop into a deep crisis.

China could react to an even deeper crisis with external aggressions

The government is likely to respond to this with even more internal repression. And with increased external aggressions. Mainland China is already appearing more and more ruthlessly in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which belongs to it. And China is already pursuing a policy of minor provocations in the South China Sea, which is also claimed by numerous neighboring countries. In any case, the display of military power in the South China Sea is very popular with many Chinese Internet users. Because besides control of the population, regained national strength is very important for the political leadership of China, perhaps it is even the most important. Because then the strengthened nationalism will have to compensate for the economic downturn. And the CCP obtained sole power in the country.

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