Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Two Sides Of Modern China

Two interesting pieces of news today concerning China. First the apparently good news. China's Foreign Ministry has urged Iran to accept international talks to try to find a diplomatic solution to the row over its alleged nuclear ambitions.

But if that's an example of China's growing desire to get involved in international politics, there's also a reminder of the other side of China - the human rights-ignoring, brutal regime we're more familiar with. Two members of the Muslim minority Uighur community have been executed for their part in a terrorist attack which took place last summer, just before the Beijing Olympics. It seems the men were killed in front of a crowd of thousands in, would you believe it, a sport stadium. Chinese government officials aren't known for their sense of irony.

The contrast between these two stories encapsulates neatly China's current position in the world. The regime is keen to engage more with the west - economically, poltically, diplomatically and culturally - but not at any price. The party officials in Beijing don't want a repeat of the popular revolutions which swept across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 80s, revolutions which followed some relaxing of the previous closed approaches of those regimes. So to make sure there's no chance of something similar happening in China, the Beijing government is continuing to get tough on any hint of unrest, even if, as in this case, it takes place thousands of miles away from the capital. The warm, smiling China that we all saw during the Olympics remains only half the story.

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