You can’t take enough precautionary security measures when the current and future leaders of the world’s most populous country gather to swap government posts and swear-in the generation of people who will rule for the next decade. Place your political dissidents under house arrest. Make sure passengers can’t open taxi windows to hand out political leaflets. Stop the sale of toy planes, kitchen knives and pencil sharpeners. Oh and don’t forget to put a ban on the sale of ping-pong balls. They can, after all, be used to spread seditious messages.
This is Beijing where police guard the 2,000 plus delegates taking part in the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People. They’re here to anoint the nation’s leadership, which will be revealed over the next week. Vice-President Xi Jinping will almost certainly become the country’s leader.
Tellingly, in his congress opening speech outgoing president Hu Jintao warned that unless corruption is stamped out, the entire communist party is under threat. Political scandals have marred the communists in recent months. The disgraced Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai was banned from the party following his wife being jailed for murdering a British businessman. He himself faces trial on corruption charges. And The New York Times published a report recently revealing the enormous riches amassed by the current prime minister Wen Jiabao’s family members.
Add to that China’s rising wealth gap and stirrings of political unrest in villages such as Wukan in Guangdong and you have a country ready for change. In the Chinese streets, people have had more than enough of the political wheeling and dealing that goes on.
But the days that the Chinese government are able to fully control information are already numbered. The propaganda masters may still be able to block a sensitive search term here and there online but the thriving Chinese blogosphere is a force that will only grow. Installing an unelected seven-member guard to rule 1.3 billion people might just be the act that inspires that blogosphere to ignite a Chinese spring – ping-pong balls flying high – that even the Politburo Standing Committee can’t withstand.