Sunday, December 18, 2011

Popular Discontent in the Most Populous Nation On Earth

Growing public discontent [in China] over corruption and mismanagement in the government has led to growing unrest and more violent protests. Public demonstrations against corruption or government policies have increased in the last two decades from under 8,000 a year to over 180,000 a year. Attempts to hide this have backfired as the Internet and cell phones quickly spread news, and images, of police brutality. _StrategyPage

As economic conditions worsen in China, disillusionment about the future is beginning to set in. A normally subservient populace is growing restive over government abuses and rampant acts of corruption and theft by officials. Modern communications technologies are making it easier for citizens to catch government officials lying to them.
The central government can intervene but rarely does. That's because the central government does not have the resources to run the entire country. China has always depended on strong local governments at the province level and below to take care of things. But this is where the corruption is worst. More and more provincial officials are being prosecuted for corruption but there are so many of them and they tend to help each other out. In effect, China is at war with itself over the corruption and bad government and everyone is losing.

Another cause of growing unrest is uncontrolled air and water pollution. For example, the government is pressuring the United States to halt the use of an air quality monitor on the roof of the Beijing embassy and releasing the data hourly on the Internet. This began in 2008 before the Olympics that year as an aid for American tourists. The Chinese government only publishes data on sand storms that blow in (as they have for over 10,000 years) from the Gobi Desert. Pollution from coal burning vehicles and factories, and the thick smog the create, is simply called "fog" and officially ignored. The citizens of Beijing know better and pay close attention to the U.S. Embassy pollution reports. Increasingly, the pollution is ten times the legal limit in the West. This is no trivial matter as more people are getting sick from the pollution and dying. _StratPage
In a country where citizens generally have no siblings, no uncles, aunts, cousins . . . and virtually no social safety net, alienation and anger can easily set in when the economy goes down.

The bursting property bubble is eating up the life savings of the older generations, just as the younger generations are finding it harder to find good opportunities. It is the time just after optimistic hopes are dashed, that resentment against officials and the well connected can grow the greatest.

The Chinese government missed its best chance for cleaning up rotten state owned enterprises and banks. And the 3 year spending spree that was meant to send the Chinese economy into self-sustain mode seems to have done little more than help China and much of the rest of the world to avoid taking its bitter medicine for a little while longer.

China, Europe and the US all seem to be facing a cross-roads in 2012. If none are willing to do the difficult things that must be done to clear bad debt and get on sounder footings for healthy economic growth, the time period between now and 2020 is likely to see some very difficult and even desperate times.

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