Reflections on June-4th Incident (Two)

Hope of Russia: The Middle Class’ awakening awareness of their rights.
By He Qinglian on June 14, 2012.

There is a feature in China’s foreign policy in recent years: whenever Western countries—the United States in particular—made any “unfriendly” actions, the Chinese government would definitely lodge a strong protest; yet however “unfriendly” Russia may be to China—whether it is the China threat theory that repeatedly emerges in Russia, or the unfair and inhumane treatments that Chinese traders and nationals in Russia have often been subjected to, the Chinese government would basically respond in a low key approach. Chinese media, too, turn a blind eye to them. Their attitude toward Vladimir Putin has been completely different from their attitude to heads of Western countries. They would spare no ink when they write about scandals that are connected to Western heads of state or government; yet when they write about Vladimir Putin, their reports comprise nothing but praise, and they generally do not criticize him.

Why does Putin get this preferential treatment? The reason is simple: the Chinese government sees Putin and Russia as its ally in opposing democracy. Looking around in this world, Beijing feels it difficult to find another of its kind that resembles it this much, and concluded that Russia would embark on the pro-Western road of democracy if Vladimir Putin is gone, which would make Beijing feel it has lost its key ally.

As two of a kind, [the authorities in] Beijing and Vladimir Putin resembles each other the most in the fact that they both reject modern democratic system, and believe firmly that economic development is what construe the basis of political legitimacy. In his election campaign speech in January this year, Vladimir Putin still insisted that political “leap and revolution” would be harmful, and that gradual development would be necessary; he still stressed that “being strong is the fundamental guarantee for national security of Russia”; he emphasized that in terms of the percentage of electric appliances ownership, Russia has already been on par with the level of developed nations, the actual income of four-fifths of the population exceeded the peak years of development of the Soviet Union; the consumption level of 80% of Russian households surpassed that of the USSR period. 

Without doubt, Putin would not forget to arouse in the people the sense of gratitude by mentioning the tremendous hardship Russia had faced in the early stage of democratization.

Similar expressions could often be found in speeches made by Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji of the third generation of the CPC leadership and Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao of the fourth generation.

The resonance between the Beijing authorities and Putin is also manifested in their special interest in controlling culture and thoughts. The only thing that set them apart is that in Russia, where some room for creative freedom already exist, Putin would have to say as a courtesy that no one shall infringe creative freedom. Yet, what Putin truly emphasized was that the country has the obligation and right to use resources to address social and public issues, and to shape a worldview that would strengthen the country. Correspondingly, the country would request that such social awareness tools as television programs, movies, the Internet, and popular culture act as role models and set in place the norms. In this respect, the Beijing authorities have already been ahead of Putin and want to bring it further, so that they could keep all the above-mentioned watertight.

As for economic policy, Putin stressed the controlling function of big state-owned enterprises. The rich therefore feel insecure and they flock to emigrate. There were even reports that the prices of luxury houses in New York climbed as a result of purchases made by the rich from China and Russia. Those who are familiar with Chinese political propaganda and state conditions would likely feel a sense of deja vu when reading these. 

Nonetheless, the Chinese government should not feel pleased so soon. After the first round of initial democratization, the seeds of democratic thoughts have already been sowed. Russia will gain from those after some hard work.

The difference between Russia and China is that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, comprehensive privatization and economic liberalization had been implemented. The national control of the economy is not as comprehensive and strict as the Chinese government does; the democratic reform that once had taken place gave rise to today’s multiparty politics in Russia. The ruling party may be powerful, but unlike the situation in China, it cannot dictate the government, turning it completely into a political tool for the party. It is because of this room for political activities that Putin can only practice enlightened despotism, however much he wants to turn the clock back. Despite severe interference from Putin and his political forces, freedom of association, freedom of demonstration, and freedom of the press still manage to provide the opposition with some room for activities. All these still do not exist in today’s China. Finally there is Weibo, which allows for some room to breathe, and the Chinese government is going all out to monitor it, control it and police it.

Also among the people who dislike Putin’s power are economic elites, who opted to vote with their feet. They emigrate, bringing with them the wealth they have gathered through the years.

There are two types of people who support Putin. 

The first type constitute Russian angry youth, such as members of the pro-Putin Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement "NASHI" and “Putin Youth Brigade”. The reason they support Putin is that, Putin aroused in them the dream of a mighty country. They chanted “Westerners stop making indiscreet remarks about Russian politics”, having neither any understanding of the history of the former Soviet Union nor ideas about the Red terror Josef Stalin had once made the people of the USSR live in, and were enthralled by Putin’s lectures. Besides, Putin’s “Youth of Russia” federal target program provide these youngster with the opportunities to enter the regime at all levels, they therefore became staunch supporters of Putin.

The second type of Putin’s supporters—of the same social class as Mubarak’s supporters—is from his ticket bunkers scattering across villages and backward regions where the flow of information is controlled. People of these regions still prefer “the traditional Russian order”, namely power politics.

According to an opinion poll in early 2011, almost 70% of the Russian people chose “stability”, even if it “may be at the expense of the principles of democracy and personal freedom”. Only about 20% of the people picked “democracy with complete freedom”. These people, predominantly members of the middle class dwelling in big or medium cities such as Moscow, became increasingly aware of their rights and are no longer satisfied with mere stability. They demand various political rights, especially the right to participate in government affairs and actively oppose the power politics of Putin. Growing increasingly wealthy, the middle class are key planners and participants of protests.

By contrast, the middle class of China may not be happy about government corruption, heavy tax burden and the lack of freedom; but once they perceive the prospect of China descending into anarchy and mob politics after the power politics of the government is gone, these people would become committed supporters of the regime.

The difference between the attitude of the middle class of China and Russia have toward power could be attributed to the features of both economies, the respective ways through which the middle class of the two countries were formed, and whether or not the bottom of society stand to benefit from the national economy.

A resource-based economy, Russia got freed from the economic difficulties not because Putin had discovered the way to revitalize the economy with science and technology, but rather he capitalized on the dramatic change in the pattern of supply and demand of the world's resources that happened in the mid-1990s. He also made good use of the country’s advantage in resources to improved income distribution and social welfare with the drastically increased national revenue, the whole society benefited.

And unlike China, Russia’s middle class does not consists a main body of civil servants; rather, it covers all types of knowledge group.

China’s economy, on the other hand, is a dependent economy. In addition to its manufacture, which relies heavily on foreign raw materials, energy, and core technologies, its [goods] are highly dependent on foreign markets.

A situation like this determines that China could only rely on overdraft of laborers’ life and welfare, on top of the overdraft of the national ecological environment.

In most areas except the several showcase cities that open to the outside world, China’s middle class, accounted for less than 20% of the country’s population, consists predominantly of civil servants and employees of government public institutions. The lives and progress of these people per se are highly dependent on the regime.