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Saturday, 22 September 2012

It’s good to have an enemy to distract your citizens from the internal political and economic situation in your country. Is this concept a driving force behind the recent riots in the Middle-East and China?

Watching the people get lairy
It's not very pretty I tell thee
Walking through town is quite scary
It's not very sensible either
The last ten days were laden with riots in two very important areas of the world: the Middle-East and China.
The riots in the Middle-East started in Egypt and Libya and supposedly led to the disgraceful murder of American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats on Wednesday, 12 September, during their attempts to release the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Subsequently, the riots spread all over the Arabic world and some Western European countries that are home to large groups of Muslim people.
The massive outburst of outrage was reputedly caused by an obscure and poorly made movie, called “The innocence of Muslims”, that was very insulting for the islam. The trailer of this movie had been put on Youtube, were it was picked up by people shortly before the riots started.
The fact that the film had been made in the United States probably made the outrage much larger. As often in these kinds of situations, the film was just a spark that fired up the resident anger and resentment against the United States that lives among certain groups in countries like Pakistan, Libya, Egypt and Iran. This made the incident a thousand times bigger than it would normally have been. In the meantime the director and actors in the film have gone into hiding, probably cursing themselves for their naivety and/or bluntness.
However, a few days after the murderous attack on Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, the word was spread that this had been a deliberate assault, by a group linked to Al Quaida. Reputedly, the riots in Benghazi had been not much more than a smoke screen to enable this attack. Of course, I don’t know if this is indeed true.
In the meantime acrimony was percolating in China against their (former) archenemy and neighbor Japan. A dispute on the ownership of a group of uninhabited islands in the East-Chinese sea, led to tens of thousands of angry Chinese citizens raiding on Japanese property, like the Japanese embassy and consulates and offices and factories of Japanese companies, like Sony, Panasonic, Toyota and Nissan. This violence caused many Japanese companies to temporarily close their doors and suspend their activities.
The acrimony started when the news was spread that the Japanese government had bought the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands from a millionaire and it subsequently became clear that the islands could be laden with natural resources, like oil and minerals. China furiously protested against the Japanse purchase agreement, as it claims the ownership of these islands.
Here are the pertinent snips of this story from an article in Business Week ( on this story:  
“Never forget the national humiliation,” and “Protect China’s inseparable territory,” read some. More disturbing: “Let’s kill all Japanese,” and “Nuclear extermination for wild Japanese dogs.”

Those are some of the sentiments irate Chinese are displaying on protest banners across the country, as demonstrators in more than a dozen cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Nanjing take to the streets, angry about Japanese control of the disputed Senkaku islands—known as Diaoyu in China—an uninhabited but possibly resource-rich atoll in the East China Sea.

The protests have been sparked by the Japanese government’s announcement that it intends to nationalize the privately owned islands. China has sent six patrols boats to the waters near the islands in recent days.

Fires broke out in a Panasonic (PC) electronics parts plant and a Toyota Motor (TM) dealership in the coastal city of Qingdao after protests there, the companies said on Sept. 16. To date, there has been no confirmation as to who set the blaze. Both have shut operations temporarily.

Equally alarming has been the bellicose rhetoric in China’s state-controlled press. After China carried out combined land, air, and naval exercises involving jet fighters, ships, and amphibious tanks, Chinese media pointedly wrote that they should serve as a warning to Japan.

“These kinds of assault and defense exercises give a clear warning message to Japan that China is prepared for and confident about protecting the Diaoyu Islands,” said Hu Siyuan, a Beijing-based strategy, according to government website on Sept. 12. “China is not worried about a potential showdown over the disputed islands,” Hu continued, despite the fact that exercises on this scale must have been planned months in advance.

Although I’m the last person to doubt the true feelings of shock, outrage and resentment among the people in the Middle-East and China, I would ask my dear readers to read between the lines, concerning these riots and governmental anger:

The Arabic world went through ‘the Arabic Spring’, which turned into a year of (very violent) acrimony in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrein and Egypt. This acrimony led to regime-change in three of these countries and culminated in the ongoing civil war in Syria, which is not going to end soon, unless a miracle happens.

After the regime change, the situation has been far from stable in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The danger of a civil war in these countries is still imminent, as a consequence of the struggle between factions on ‘who is in charge and who will own the money and properties that the expelled regimes left behind’. Besides that, the current silence in countries like Bahrein, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Oman is probably only temporary.

Although the situation in Iran for instance is currently much more stable than a few years ago, it is a public secret that a large and growing part of the Iranian youngsters is fed up with the regime and wants more freedom, more women’s rights and less corruption and religious repression. The same is probably true for Bahrein, Oman and Saudi-Arabia.

China, on its behalf, has been suffering from a continuing soap opera, starring the designated successors of president Hu Jintao: Bo Xilai and Xi Jinping. Hu, who served a ten year stint as official leader of the Communist Party, is planning to resign at the next congress of the Party, which is planned for October, 2012.

Involuntarily, the succession of Hu became the talk of the town during the last months: former candidate Bo Xilai has fallen into disgrace after his wife supposedly plotted and executed a murder attack on a British businessman. Xi Jinping, the other crown prince,  disappeared without a trace for a two-week period, cancelling at least three official meetings with foreign officials, including Hillary Clinton, only to resurface last weekend without any further explanation or comments. This led to an enormous flow of speculation outside China, that didn’t stop yet.

Due to the opacity and secrecy of the Chinese presidential elections and the enormous (economic) importance of the Chinese leadership for the country itself and the rest of the world, these elections can be a snake-pit of plots, betrayal, violence and candidates that fall into disgrace with the Communist Party, while other candidates suddenly can come up like a rocket.

Already for thousands of years, the whole officialdom surrounding the Chinese central government has been like a swamp wherein people could easily disappear. Things were no different in the times of the great Chinese emperors and their court circle. Everybody who read the wonderful books on the historical Chinese justice ‘Judge Dee’, knows what I’m talking about. These books were written by the late Dutch ambassador and novelist Robert van Gulik and they are situated during the T’ang dynasty (AD 600–900). Little has changed since then.

This brings me to the following conclusion: governments in both the Middle-East region and China may not have caused these riots and outbursts of public rage in their countries, but I can imagine that the unrolling events were not unfavorable to those governments.

There is no betters means than public outrage aimed at a foreign enemy, to distract the people from the internal political and economic situation in their country. It could be that the leaders in China and the Middle-Eastern countries understood this lesson very well and used it to their advantage lately. This thought did also come up with Dexter Roberts, the author of the aforementioned must-read Business Week article:

Given the curious timing of the latest explosion of anti-Japan feeling, some are wondering whether there is any connection to the ongoing once-in-a-decade leadership transition, with a key Communist Party Congress expected to open as early as next month. A still-unexplained two-week-long disappearance by Vice President Xi Jinping, presumed to be the country’s next leader, sparked concern over his health and set off speculation. (A smiling Xi resurfaced on Sept. 15 at the China Agricultural University in Beijing, where he was shown examining ears of corn.)

The top theory is that China’s leadership may be encouraging the nationalist outpouring to distract attention from continuing dissension at home, including debates over who will ultimately be named to China’s nine-member reigning body, the Politburo Standing Committee. Many expect the final cut to include only seven people, with the Committee reduced in size.

I couldn’t agree more.

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