The country's economic growth, long thought to ensure Communist Party rule, has done little to curb the protests and violence that have erupted across the country in recent weeks
Chinese military police march in Xintiang / Reuters
China's great compromise, an implicit deal in which the government promises steady rule and consistent economic growth in exchange for total control over the world's largest autocracy, may be losing its appeal. In several of China's provinces, protests are spiraling into a cycle of self-perpetuating violence: civil demonstrations are almost immediately met with overwhelming force from riot police, sparking a more violent backlash from protesters, inspiring an even tougher crackdown, and so on. It's difficult to see either side backing down. When it comes to internal dissent, China's government has long chosen suppression over compromise categorically. The protesters will be unable to achieve their goals of freedom from repression while security forces are treating them so brutally, and that brutal treatment will only raise the protesters' desire to break free.
China's unspoken promise to its citizens -- stay in line, and we'll maintain economic growth -- has long convinced many people in and outside of China that it would guarantee regime stability. The Chinese people will be happy (or at least not so unhappy as to rise up), the reasoning goes, so long as the economy is strong. Watching China's economy buoy as our own sank, some U.S. columnists have even expressed envy for the Chinese model, though such opinions represent only a minority. The mainstream U.S. view seems to be this: China's model might not be very moral or ethical, but it works, and the country's rise will inevitably continue, with an autocratic but wealthy China playing a large (and possibly dominant) role on the world stage.