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The explosion of peaceful protests throughout the Chinese territory has taken more than half of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and its top leader Xi Jinping by surprise. After the initial stupor, the state apparatus is preparing to put out the citizen fire and start a wave of repression whose intensity is a matter of debate for observers in situ.
But the mere fact that a police chief in Guangzhou province – the place where the protest apparently broke out – has said that the government will confront it with determination within the framework of the rule of law heralds the birth of a China unknown to most of the world. including their leaders.
Indeed, in Mao Zedong”s time there would have been no declarations. The protesters would simply disappear and calm would be restored. Like what happened in Tiananmen Square when students united in a massive protest in support of Hu Yaobang”s reformist policies and rejection of the communist old guard who wanted to put an end to them.
Today these reforms are precisely the crucible in which these protests have been forged.
Because as Jiang Zemin said to a leader who labeled himself a revolutionary in Latin America “the capitalist system has been imposed in the world and it is necessary to understand how it works to take advantage of our peoples. Trying to destroy it is impossible and only brings misfortune.”
In that advice lies the success of modern China. Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai, who had accompanied Mao Zedong in the revolutionary feat, realized that the collectivist system did not produce favorable results for the creation of wealth and economic development. And to the extent that development did not materialize, the population had to be controlled, which implied immense expenses in the repressive apparatus. An alternative had to be found. After much study and research, they realized that the only way to achieve development was through capitalism and that this required three ingredients: freedom for individuals to seek and create their well-being; stability in public policies via the rule of law and financial resources.
Those middle classes whose size is estimated at 350 million people have been traveling the world for two decades and breathing; freedom. And those who have not left Chinese territory have gone to Hong Kong where freedom still prevails. And freedom has the frightful defect of promoting innovation and change in human beings, since the pursuit of individual good must adapt to circumstances.
Thanks to that middle class, the West enjoyed two decades of cheap manufacturing that allowed for increased well-being and fostered the growth of its middle classes. And thanks to her today in China we hear cries for freedom.
But for the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and particularly its supreme leader Xi Jinping, this phenomenon does not seem to have been noticed. It is seen that they have forgotten the advice of the founder of the nation. Mao Zedong indicated in an interview with Alan Peyrefitte “… the true leader anticipates the changes because he knows how to listen to the sound of the grass as it grows.”
Xi Jinping seems not to have heard these sounds so he risks being shelved like the Tiananmen protests shelved the communist old guard. But this time the conflict could be complex and with consequences for the entire world because the world economy already works with two engines: the USA and China. If one were to fail, the dark side of the current economic cycle – the recession – could deepen.
This article is part of an agreement between The American and the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.
Beatrice Rangel es directora del Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Managing Director de AMLA Consulting, responsable de negociar e implementar estrategias y adquisiciones de inversión corporativas en América Latina y el Caribe. Exmiembro ejecutivo de Wharton School de la Universidad de Pennsylvania // Beatrice Rangel is Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Managing Director of AMLA Consulting, responsible for negotiating and implementing corporate investment strategies and acquisitions in Latin America and the Caribbean. Former Executive Fellow of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.