China mulls impact of Mideast uprisings

Protesters staged a rally against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year autocratic rule at the Egyptian embassy in Washington.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 31, 2011; 9:02 AM

HONG KONG - Could the popular revolt against authoritarian regimes of the Middle East ever spread to China, the world's most populous nation? And if so, does the United States have a policy to deal with it?

The ticklish question has been hovering in the background since the "Jasmine Revolution" street uprising toppled the president of Tunisia two weeks ago. It has only gained in urgency as the demonstrations spread to Yemen, Jordan and then Egypt - threatening President Hosni Mubarak's near-30-year-grip on power.

A Chinese blogger first posed the query to President Obama's chief Asia expert during a videoconference from the White House Situation Room with eight Mainland bloggers.

"In my view, many Chinese netizens and intellectuals believe that China's future is Tunisia-ization," noted the Beijing-based blogger, 2Keqi, in the web chat with Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council's senior director for Asian affairs. "Does the American government make this same assessment and does it have a policy plan" in the event that China takes such a turbulent path?

Bader and another official, Ben Rhodes, deputy NSC adviser for strategic communications, declined to answer directly, instead repeating the administration's oft-stated position about the importance of human rights and the need to let people "realize their own aspirations."

The question came up again last Friday at the White House press briefing, posed to press secretary Robert Gibbs - who similarly declined to engage.

But at a time when many Americans have come to view China - with its double-digit economic growth and huge investments in infrastructure and energy technologies - in terms of the challenges it poses to the United States' position as the world's pre-eminent economic power, many here see the country's closed political system as unsustainable and a key vulnerability restricting its leaders' grand ambition.

"America's understanding of China is very limited," the blogger, 2Keqi, told Bader and Rhodes. Many Chinese, he added, find it "extremely difficult to accept the idea that the 21st century is China's century."

"I did not expect them to answer. They are professional diplomats," said the Beijing-based blogger Monday in a telephone interview. He spoke on the condition that his real name not be published, saying he has been targeted in the past by those who disagree with his views.

"I just wanted to convey the message that there are a lot of Chinese netizens who care about this issue," the blogger said.

It is an issue the Chinese authorities clearly care about too. Chinese Internet users have been largely barred from making comments about the ongoing popular revolt in Egypt, as Beijing's Communist rulers tread a fine line between allowing generally unfiltered news reports of the protests while also discouraging the idea that the uprising may bring democracy to the Arab world's largest country.

Online news sites typically allow readers to have comments and form discussion groups after articles are posted, but that service has been disabled since the Egyptian protests began.

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