As the days mount, and the frustration builds, in the wake of the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370, the Chinese are starting to react like Americans–with loud outrage.
That is, ordinary Chinese, fearful about the fate of loved ones on that plane, are staging protests and media events to gain attention and force official action. There’s been a long history of such peaceful public protests in the US, of course, but for the Chinese, it’s something new.
Americans, protective of their rights, can only applaud the Chinese for starting to assert theirs. After all, everywhere in the world, non-responsive bureaucrats need a good public shaming–if not a swift kick in the pants.
Today, Kuala Lumpur (KL) is full of Chinese families and other concerned citizens; they have camped themselves in official buildings in KL, where they make demands, go on hunger strikes, and plot media strategy–in other words, do the same thing that Americans would be doing in such a situation. Indeed, Xinhua, the Chinese news service, and other Chinese news outlets, as well as China’s vast social media, are covering this story closely; after all, two thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese citizens.
Of course, there is a crucial difference: The Chinese protests are occurring in Kuala Lumpur (KL), not in Beijing. In other words, the Chinese are free to protest against another country’s government, not their own–at least not yet.
Still, we can see that in the future, the Chinese citizenry is likely to be more emboldened, everywhere. How do we know this? Because we can point to the economic and technological determinism underneath these KL protests–the emergence of a Chinese middle class, empowered with social-media technology. Indeed, perhaps the least-covered big story over the last couple of decades has been the entry of half a billion Chinese–a number far greater than the total population of the US–into middle-class status. And they all have gadgets. In the sheer mass of their energy and technology, they are changing China for the good.
This rise of a bourgeoisie has some profound consequences, not only for the people involved, but for their government. Compared to peasants, middle-class people are much more assertive, and their government has had to become much more responsive.
No, China has not become a democracy–and the leaders in Beijing have no plans ever to let themselves be voted out of office–but it’s worth pausing to look at the way that China hopes to forestall a true democratic revolution. In a nutshell, the rulers in Beijing have become astute about playing to popular passions in a way that often mimics democratic forms. That is, the Chinese leaders seek to harness public opinion, and channel it, in a manner that serves the national interest–at least the leaders’ version of the national interest. And on the Flight 370 issue, for sure, Beijing is completely in tune with nationalist passions.
So now we can start to see why there’s no Tea Party in China. In a crucial way, the Chinese government is closer to its national public than the American government is to its public.
Let’s ask ourselves: If 150 or so Americans had been lost in a Third World airplane disaster of unknown causes, and if that Third World government were seemingly not interested in cooperating with the investigation, would the US government be as energetic and aggressive as the Chinese government? Would American diplomats be blunt in their assessment of the investigation? Or would they find themselves being stifled by political correctness? By fear of being called “racist?”
We can say whatever we want about the Chinese government, but this much is for sure: It is forcefully keeping the focus–and the responsibility–on the Malaysians. For example, as The New York Times reported, the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang, told journalists that his government had ruled out the possibility that any of the Chinese on board could have been part of the disaster. Translated: Whatever happened, it’s all the Malaysians’ fault.
Indeed, as The Washington Post noted on Wednesday, the same Ambassador Huang declared that Malaysians were “inexperienced and lacking the capacity” to carry out the investigation properly. We can observe: If an American diplomat had such a thing, there would have been an uproar–cries of “insensitivity” at best, and “racism,” at worst.
But since it was a Chinese diplomat who talked such tough talk, nothing happens. Oh wait, something did happen: Malaysia is rushing to make amends to China. As Xinhua reported, the Malaysians are sending a delegation to China to discuss the missing plane. It’s hard to see how such a trip has much to do with actual fact-finding; instead, it’s evident that the classic Chinese tributary system, in which the foreigners come to kowtow to Chinese imperial authority, is back in place. In other words, once again, after a bad patch of weakness, the Chinese are in charge. (We might note that there’s been no similar Malaysian visit to the US.)
No, the Chinese leaders aren’t democrats. They are something different: They are populists. They are unabashed ethnic champions. They know that “their” people disappeared on that 777, and they are angry about it. On this issue, at least, the government and the people are as one.
Some will say, of course, that the Beijing government is being opportunistic, or even manipulative, in taking advantage of this tragic situation. And perhaps Beijing’s motives are less than fully sincere.
However, even if the Chicoms are insincere, some good can still come from the 370 debacle, because there’s something rotten in Malaysia–and that needs to be addressed. Obviously the government in KL thinks it has something to hide; it has dragged its heels for nearly two weeks now. Could it be the ineptitude of the regime? That the airlines, and airports, are maybe honeycombed with Jihad sympathizers? Or the larger-than-realized role of radical Islam in the country as a whole? Security-conscious minds should seek answers to these questions, because next time, it could be one us on a doomed passenger plane.
As K.T. McFarland has written for Fox News, the 370 disappearance highlights grave weaknesses in the aviation security system. As she wrote,
Security in Third World countries and airports remains lax. The Malaysian flight’s passenger manifest list had lots of holes. Some passengers were travelling with stolen passports, despite those passports being listed in the Interpol database. In [an] action reminiscent of the September 11 hijackers, some passengers bought their tickets with cash, at the last minute, and one-way only. Some passengers didn’t show up for the flight, but apparently there was no effort to see whether they had checked-in baggage that was still on the plane.
In other words, these are serious problems to be addressed–and then fixed. So here’s a question: Who is going to fight harder to improve aviation security in Third World countries? The US government? Or the Chinese government?
We can be clear-eyed about the dictatorial, even murderous, nature of the Chinese regime and still offer it praise when praise is due. For all their faults, Chinese leaders don’t feel compelled to apologize for the country–and they seem determined to protect their people. The US government could learn some lessons about the power of good ol’ patriotism and national pride. And so could the MSM!
Here at home, the Tea Party movement got going five years ago because the American middle class had finally said, “Enough!” Enough, that is, of governmental lies and stupidity. In the face of that popular upheaval, the American political establishment said, in effect, “Here: Have some more lies and stupidity.” And that’s how we got Obamacare, the Mitt Romney candidacy, the bipartisan push toward open borders, and cluelessness about the world, including our stubbornly p.c. see-no-evil attitude toward the true threat of Muslim terrorism. As the Flight 370 incident would seem to remind us, innocent lives are at risk.
No freedom-loving American should want the Chinese dictatorship. Still, it would be nice if American leaders would take the populist hint and do a better job of standing up for America.