Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Internal Is External


China's rural peasants are increasingly dissatisfied with land seizures, taxation and other government actions. A citizen protest last week in southern China apparently turned violent and was met with police gunfire and the death of 20 or more civilians, a big display of force for the post-Tiananmen Square period. But Beijing now appears to be moving in several directions at once on this incident: suppressing and/or sanitizing news of both the protest and the shooting; disciplining the police commander involved; and continuing to invest in non-lethal crowd control technologies rather standard ammunition.

China's ongoing and increasing internal instability can't help but take Beijing's eyes off its long-term public diplomacy campaign abroad, just as the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre heralded a temporary retreat for China from the world stage in 1989. The Chinese leadership has always made securing the home front its major priority and if domestic protests continue to pick up steam, I would look for a withdrawal of Hu Jintao and others from the globetrotting they excel at and a renewed focus on China's interior.

Internal disruptions usually make a nation's public-diplomacy campaign more difficult in any case since they unbalance whatever message that nation wants to project, and the U.S. is no exception: As Karen Hughes began her term as the State Department's top public-diplomacy official, images of government ineffectiveness, racial inequality and engineering incompetence were beamed worldwide in the aftermath of the Gulf hurricanes.

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