Friday, 28 December 2012

Foreigners Clash with Police in Guangzhou: A Sign of the Times














Note: This commentary was originally written several months ago and therefore not particularly current, yet I still feel it is relevant as it touches on China's most serious issue, that of social unrest arising from a lack of accountability of the authorities and their insensitivity to the concerns of the masses. I also find the particular nature of this incident worth sharing with those who may not have already heard or read about this clash between foreigners and Chinese police taking place in broad daylight on the streets of Guangzhou. 

 

Foreigners Clash with Police in Guangzhou: A Sign of the Times


This past summer, a mass incident occurred between several hundred African ex-pats and Chinese riot police in Guangzhou. Apparently, an African man had had a conflict with a local Chinese taxi driver over the fare, only to end up fainting and dying after being detained in a local police station for several hours. Many fellow African ex-pats working in the area demanded to see the man's body and held up signs and protested in public. Shortly afterward, a physical conflict ensued between these foreigners and the police.
While the simple fact that upwards of several hundred to a thousand foreigners ended up clashing with police on the street in China is surprising in itself, equally striking is the similarity of this incident with those between protesting Chinese crowds and local police forces.
The reaction by the foreigners of banding together to demand justice, coupled with the distrust and anger directed to the police, and their request for the body of a deceased individual who died in suspicious circumstances while being detained by police, is a theme that is repeated time and time again as innumerable incidents across China end in violent clashes with the police and often deaths of citizens who frequently ‘go missing’ or are cremated before relatives or friends have an opportunity to investigate the manner in which they died.
    In one sense, this incident is unprecedented in that it involved foreigners in their hundreds, proactively demonstrating and becoming embroiled in clashes with local police. On a more basic level, it is perhaps the most common symbol of impending socio-political change. The fact that someone ended up dying over something as seemingly insignificant as a dispute over the cost of a taxi fare that directly led to a large-scale conflict of civilians with police also hints at the failure of the regime’s roughshod approach to dealing with social unrest. Rather, it tends to amplify it.
If Xi Jinping, new occupant to the throne of ultimate party authority, fails to seize the opportunity to bring decisive progress to China's political culture and make significant steps toward establishing the rule of law during his reign, something which the Communists have reneged on since seizing power in 1949, then demonstrations and mass incidents leading to an increasing number of violent conflicts between aggrieved commoners and various forces of the regime’s expensive and colossal, multi-tiered police state apparatus will lead to rising social instability. If left unchecked, a rising crescendo of violent conflict between the masses and the police will build into a tsunami of political destruction for the party. The next ten years of policy direction led by emperor Xi will be critical to securing viable stability, at least in the short term, for the party cum empire.