Posted by: Sam Olsen | August 9, 2011

Bad luck Kaisers, I don’t predict a riot – yet

The scenes coming from London are absolutely terrible. The lawlessness and criminality has made the front pages of virtually all the Asian media outlets (as far as my limited research goes), with the Straights Times (Singapore) being a good example. The futility and pointlessness of it is handily summed up by these two paras from a China Daily article:

“In Hackney, hundreds of youths left a trail of burning trash and shattered glass. Looters ransacked a small convenience store, filling plastic shopping bags with alcohol, cigarettes, candy and toilet paper.

“This is the uprising of the working class. We’re redistributing the wealth,” said Bryn Phillips, a 28-year-old self-described anarchist, as young people emerged from the store with chocolate bars and ice cream cones.”

An uprising that focuses on redistributing toilet paper and ice cream cones? Come on, this is pathetic. I also don’t have any truck with articles that try to blame the trouble on the austerity measures. For a start, they haven’t even begun to be felt yet, and secondly, unemployment figures have been stable for a long time now. Who knows what the reasons are? And who knows what the correct response is?

It is all quiet over here. Apart from the HK stock exchange having its biggest fall in years – down 3%, although it was down 8% a little earlier. And Chinese inflation hitting a three-year hight. Chinese news this morning interviewed numerous middle class people complaining that they just didn’t have any buying power any more; and if it’s bad for them, what about those at the bottom of the pile who have no social security to help them?

But despite this economic turmoil here, the streets remain calm and the luxury shops still as full as ever: Lawrence and I went sock shopping again this morning (it has become an addiction – 14 pairs bought in a week. I was thinking of getting a double lucky 88 pairs so would only have to wash them 4.14 times a year, but Aggie had words) and the very wealthy ladies who lunch were out in force.

That, however, is not to say that China is immune to protest. In fact, it is very much ablaze with demonstrations. reports that there were 120,000 “mass incidents” in China in 2008, up from 90,000 in 2006. The term is the Chinese state’s euphemism for strikes, street protests, roadblocks and other forms of mass protests, covering protests of 25 people or more. And here is an example list of 10 top protests in China last year.

Chinese riot police in Xinjiang

Why all this trouble? China has seemingly been beset by trouble for thousands of years, with rebellions breaking forth with rampant frequency. A noted hot spot these days is the increasing inequality between coastal and inland China, although there are plenty of others in this vast country, like in the western province of Xinjiang (see picture). Indeed, an old Chinese proverb is “the empire, once divided, will unite; the empire, once united, will divide”, with the cause of this undulation often being internal pressures rather than external forces alone. Yet, whilst no one is predicting such cataclysmic results in the short-term over here, it is worth noting that the mass protests have been increasing in recent years and the economic troubles ahead are bound to make things worse. And if you think the riots in London have been bad, imagine what 1.3 billion people violently demonstrating would look like. But the continued growth of China and Hong Kong should hopefully keep macro-trouble contained for now.



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