Contextual Content

Protest movement growing in China

Minqi Li: "the resistance has been growing in recent years, and even by the official statistics, what they call "the mass incidents" has increased from something like 30,000 a year to now maybe 50,000, 60,000 a year, and that you still have many protests from the traditional-sector workers relating to issues about privatization, corruption that happened in the process of privatization."

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li. Minqi, if we talked to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, I expect they would make an argument that goes something like this: if you look what happened with the fall of the communist regime in the Soviet Union, the introduction of what was supposed to be something like a Western-style democracy, the introduction in that context of free market reforms, they would say you got essentially chaos and you got the establishment of a kind of mafia state. So they would say that this guided capitalism is better than that. They would also probably say that China has to go through a catharsis of getting rid of inefficient state industries, going through this kind of shock therapy of sorts, in order to get to a stage where China will someday have more of a social safety net and all of that. What’s wrong, if anything, with that argument?

MINQI LI: Well, speaking of a mafia state and China’s supposed to have guided capitalism. But in terms of the social safety, personal safety, actually, in recent years it has deteriorated a lot. And outside big cities, actually, there are many places now controlled by mafia. And as we just had that mass incident in Weng’An of the Guizhou province, which involved tens of thousands of people that attacked the local government, the local police department. So, you know, even with this guided capitalism, it’s not that safe.

JAY: And tell us a little bit more of what happened there. These were local people attacking the government institutions for corruption?

LI: Apparently, although we still don’t know the details, because there’s no authoritative source on information. And I’m just using this as an example in saying that, you know, the guided capitalism is not that guided. So we have this economic development first and then social welfare later. And the Chinese Communist Party leadership, right now they have actually lost a lot of money in the Chinese treasury. And this year, China is expecting to have a fiscal surplus in the amount of one trillion Chinese yuan, or, in other words, about US$150 billion or US$250 billion. So that amount of huge surplus. And so I don’t quite understand, honestly, and why that is not used for social purposes. And so that may speak something about addressing some of the social problems.

JAY: We did an interview recently with Naomi Klein. And she cited the fact that $12 billion had been spent just on Olympic security. How concerned are the Chinese authorities with unrest and oppositional movement, either amongst workers or the rural population?

LI: Apparently, they are very concerned. But, you know, it’s not just a question of central government. The Chinese civilization has developed upon where the provincial government, local governments have lots of connections with either the Chinese businesses or the transnational corporations. The authority of the central government is not always that effective. And in many cases, the local governments may want to defend the local businesses at the expense of the interests of local population, and the central government cannot do a lot about it.

JAY: In terms of the expansion of the Chinese economy, we saw a poll recently, Pew, the American polling and research company, foundation, did a poll that said that 86 percent of Chinese are happy with the direction the country’s going in. Now, I don’t know how reliable the poll is, but we do seem to get the sense that most Chinese are happy with marching into this consumer society.

LI: About middle-class consumers, you are going to get that kind of survey results. In the previous part, we talked about the so-called middle class accounting for no more than 15 percent of the Chinese population. And if you do a survey among the rest of the 85 percent of the population, if you do a survey among the traditional workers lost their jobs from state sectors do a survey among those workers who work in the sweatshop conditions, or you do a survey among the peasants who have lost their health care, then I guess you’ll get different results.

JAY: And to what extent are workers and rural people organized to resist what they see as an unfair situation?

LI: Apparently the resistance has been growing in recent years, and even by the official statistics, what they call "the mass incidents" has increased from something like 30,000 a year to now maybe 50,000, 60,000 a year, and that you still have many protests from the traditional-sector workers relating to issues about privatization, corruption that happened in the process of privatization. And now you even start to have some protests, strikes, from the new workers that working in the capital sectors from the migrant workers.

JAY: And are these protests allowed, or are they cracked down on? I mean, is it illegal to organize these protests, or are they more or less alive?

LI: Well, in China, you know, whether something is legal or illegal, allowed or not allowed, is always something ambiguous. And so it’s not really a question about whether it’s legal or illegal; it’s a question about whether, you know, given a situation, and if the workers could get effectively organized, if they could put some pressure on the local government and given the situation, it’s not convenient for the local government to simply crack down, then that protest will happen. Otherwise it will be difficult.

PAUL JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the growing social disparity in China. How do the rich live? How do ordinary people live? And is this leading to greater social disparity, or, eventually, social equality? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Minqi Li.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.