Axis of evil alert:
Who are the members of this group? Today, it includes China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela.
Why does it exist? Fundamentally, this new axis signals growing anxiety on the part of its members that they are “behind the curve” of history. Simply put, these states are on the wrong side of history, politics and economics – and they know it.
Leaving aside all the rest of the bullshit there, let’s have a look at the idea that China in particular is driven by fear, which is a popular one. Google reveals that China is currently scared of, among other things:
Rural Unrest, North Korea, Indian Ballistic Missiles, Ai Weiwei, Nancy Pelosi, US monetary policy, the Arab Spring, the Jasmine Revolution, It’s Own People, the internet, Liu Xiaobo, higher commodity prices, lower commodity prices, corruption, tainted food scandals.
I don’t suppose there’s any point in criticizing the variant of the pathetic fallacy here, since it seems to be accepted shorthand that governments and other organisations are collectively assigned emotions that they cannot in fact ‘feel’. The interesting questions is why so many of the emotions ascribed to Beijing concern fear and anxiety. I mean, how many actual communist party officials are ‘scared’ at any given point in time (other than by their superiors) rather than, say, angry, petulant, self-satisfied, vengeful, relaxed, or preoccupied by the day to day demands of their job, their ambitions and so on?
The obvious argument here is that dictatorship in itself implies an existential state of fear because it relies on surveillance and the ability to deploy physical force. In this reading, the whole structure of stability management, the PAP, internet ‘self-discipline and so on are manifestations of fear. But a CP member could reasonably turn round and say that they don’t intend to share power, so they are simply taking the necessary measures. Saying that spending on security stems from a fear of democracy is like saying that going shopping stems from a fear of anti-consumerism. In both cases, people spend the money because they like what it buys them. Or alternatively, the reason I’m not giving you any of my beer is not because I’m scared of sharing, it’s because I want to get drunk.
The use of fear here also seems to be a compensation mechanism. Dissident stories in China follow a pretty simple pattern, namely: dissident identified; dissident crushed. It makes the thing a whole lot less bleak if you can say that the dissident concerned started Hu Jintao quaking in his pajamas. You can see the compensatory mechanism work on a wider level as well. A bit scared by the way the West runs out of gas while China keeps banging on? Well they’re scared, because, um, ...they’re on the wrong side of history? Yes, that must be it. Of course the reason China grew so fast in the first case was also because it was scared, as if the whole process was just a matter of frantically baking cakes and throwing them at an otherwise uncontrollable mob.
I think fear might operate somewhere within the system as a function of the sheer structural lunacy of trying to run the most populous country on earth through an imported Leninist power vertical the size of Germany. Choose to do that and you might wake up in a sweat from time to time when it strikes you that there are one and a half billion people out there and you don’t know what they’re doing. But the reflex that ascribes pretty much everything Beijing does as from fear and its whole internal world as a nightmare haunted place probably says more about us than them. Beijing isn’t frightened most of the time, and maybe that’s a bit scary.