By Tyler Thompson
If you knew anything about Intellectual Property (IP) violations in China you would know a lot about how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) governs. It¡¯s like this: In the corporate world, your brand is everything. You are constantly concerned with managing your brand, whether it be the brand name, symbol, or general reputation of your company. So, when your brand is threatened or tainted by imitators or cheap knock-off reproductions in the largest domestic market in the world, you tend to notice. For a period of time, government officials do all they can to mollify angry foreign investors and take temporary measures to prevent IP violations inside China. This tactic works as a provisional solution to a reoccurring problem but does little to engender long-term change. It also helps keep foreign interests at play inside China. As soon as these companies are lulled into believing or become satisfied that the problem has been corrected, government regulations are laxed, and the entire process is repeated.
Such is the case in government ¨C a cyclical trend that marks the highs and lows of public dissent and political oppression, ultimately exposing China¡¯s unwavering obsession with maintaining a harmonious society. Indeed, maintaining social order has become the crux of China¡¯s governance model, focusing on preserving high economic gains on the one hand and restricting political dissent on the other. This fortifies the indelibility and permanence of the CCP and ensures that those who are in power remain in power. However, the government does not always exercise full authority against its people, nor does it always have to, and has at times been known to draw back tight political restrictions, as it did in the months leading up to Tiananmen Square, 1989.
A recent example of this precedes the beginning of this year when pro-democracy movements began spreading across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As China continued its climb out of the global financial crisis and began addressing issues such as inflation and a deteriorating housing market, it appeared as if all of China¡¯s efforts were devoted to the economy. Then, beginning in Tunisia and Egypt, a series of anti-regime protests circulated the authoritarian world, worrying the Chinese leadership that such protests would eventually spill over into China. To some degree, these fears were not unwarranted. Throughout February and March a large and semi-organized netizen campaign to institute a Tunisian or ¡°Jasmine-style¡± revolution in China became a major concern of the CCP. Since then we have seen extensive efforts by the government to restrict online content and manage political discourse.
In contrast to a number of MENA countries, the Chinese government has afforded every measure to ensure the pro-democracy movement in China remains nothing more than an embryonic and unorganized grass-roots campaign. In fact, government response to the short-lived protest movement in China has been thought to be overkill. So far we have seen inordinate government crackdown against many forms of political dissent both online and in formal settings such as February¡¯s ¡°strolling protests,¡± the restriction of foreign journalists, the installation of university consultation screenings for ¡°radical thought,¡± and the jailing of political dissidents.
For three consecutive weeks in mid-February and early March, a number of staged albeit ostensibly unobserved protests took place in over thirteen locations including parts of Shanghai and Beijing calling for an upright and honest government, the right to supervise government tax collection, the right to scrutinize corruption within government, and the political freedom to criticize government actions in general. Government response to these so-called ¡°strolling protests,¡± resulted in the detention of many protesters, known dissidents, and human rights activists, and seemed asymmetrical to the strength of the protests themselves, which relatively few people attended.
Mostly a result of the attempted protests earlier this year, the Chinese government has reinstituted pre-2008 restrictions on foreign press, requiring foreign journalists to obtain written government permission before newsgathing in designated sites such as Beijing. These restrictions on reporting by foreign journalists help the government control public information and limit the effects of what has been a broad-swathed stroke of revolutionary paint from Yemen, to Egypt, and for a time, in China. Adding further depth to the governments efforts to limit the effects of the protests in MENA countries, Peking University¡¯s Communist Party Committee has announced plans to instate a screening program in May that would identify and take measures to correct students prone to having ¡°radical thoughts.¡± The announcement has provoked outrage from students and university professors alike who condemn the decision as an outright attack on the ¡°freethinking ethos¡± of the university system, established to ¡°cultivate people¡¯s independent personalities and thinking,¡± which is now in danger of being expunged.
Now, as the CCP pushes forward with what may be the final stages of the crackdown against internal dissent, the government has begun rounding up the usual suspects of dissidents, lawyers, and other activists such as Ai Weiwei, popular artist and political dissident, and foremost designer of the ¡°Bird¡¯s Nest¡± stadium which was constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Ai is the latest to join a long list of human rights activists, lawyers and writers who have been arrested, detained or gone missing in the country.
Reverting to archaic measures to suppress political freedoms within China and restrict transparent reporting on China internationally is certainly a giant step in the wrong direction for civil rights in China, but it is by no means something new. Although different in many respects, this crackdown by the government is merely the latest of many in recent history. Whether it be the Tibetans in Xinjiang province, the Uyghurs in northwestern China, student groups in Beijing, or the U.S. supported Tiawanese leadership, the CCP has managed to maintain control despite multifarious forms of dissent. The Arab Spring may be a drastic shift in Middle Eastern politics, but its regional influence will fall short of affecting China as long as the CCP remains committed to reforming on its own time-scale. So, if you think what is happening in China today is unprecedented or at all indicative of a recessive or failing authoritarian government, think again, because we have seen it all before.