2003 June 24 Tuesday
Communist Party In China Strengthened By SARS Battle

Businessweek Beijing Bureau Chief Dexter Roberts says the Chinese Communist Party is coming out of the SARS crisis reinvigorated.

Just look at how Beijing, once it got going, fought the disease. The measures were taken right out of the old Mao playbook. Long-dormant neighborhood watch committees dusted off their red armbands and started monitoring the health of their communities -- making sure families regularly checked temperatures and that those with fevers stayed home. And it was the strong arm of the party that made it possible for Beijing to isolate SARS patients through mandatory quarantines and by shutting schools and businesses. "The people are more willing to follow the Communist Party's leadership now," says Zhong Ling, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student at Jiangsu University who was confined to his campus for more than a month. "You can see that the government has gained much prestige.

I continue to be skeptical of the argument that SARS will serve as a catalyst to reform the Chinese system to create pressure on the government to allow more press freedom and greater openness. The regime wants to survive and its leaders believe they must not allow too much independence of thought to develop in the populace. A truly free press is seen as a generator of rival bases of power and that is unacceptable to the party.

Update: Writing for Asian Times Antoaneta Bezlova reports on a media crack-down in China.

Beijing Xinbao, a weekly news tabloid run by the national newspaper Workers' Daily, was shut down and its editors sacked two weeks ago after publishing an article critical of the central government in its June 4 edition. The article, titled "Seven disgusting things in China", violated national publication regulations, according to the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po.

In late May, four Internet activists were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for posting articles the authorities said were inciting subversion of state power. A sophisticated tracking system was used by China's Internet police to catch SARS "rumormongers", who are now liable for prosecution under a new law on infectious diseases.

The brief period of loosened press freedom in China occasioned by the SARS outbreak appears to be coming to an end.

Update II: CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam says Chinese President Hu Jintao is retreating from plans to implement intra-party democratization.

"Hu wants to push ahead with political reform," said a veteran party cadre in Beijing. "But he does not yet have full control over the party and army -- and quite a number of cadres are still toeing the line of conservative elders such as former president Jiang Zemin."

Update III: China e-Lobby in their latest report refers to yet another report of the Chinese government's crackdown on media in China.

The newspapers were forbidden to write stories critical of the Guangdong provincial government's handling of the initial outbreak of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, reporters said.

Propaganda officials also banned further reporting on Jiang Yanyong, a whistle-blowing doctor who accused the government of lying about the SARS outbreak, editors said.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 24 03:05 AM  Culture Open Versus Closed Societies


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