While China was busy repatriating its citizens from Egypt, writes Howard French in The Atlantic, “nowhere have these stories attempted an honest explanation of why an evacuation was needed in the first place. To do so would require getting into some deeply messy topics in post-Tiananmen China about popular demands for democracy and accountability and about the military’s ambivalent relationship to the political leadership.”
It is hard, though, to overstate the difficulties of spinning the Egypt situation from the perspective of the star of the Authoritarian International, in the delightful phrase of Chrystia Freeland, of Reuters. Things were so much simpler when so-called Color Revolutions swept a number of constituent parts of the former Soviet Union and the Balkans in the early 2000s. Beijing could indulge in the paranoid or cynical fantasy that this was a case of the West using its insidious non-governmental organizations and funding for civil society to undermine authoritarian regimes that had traditionally been in the socialist orbit. This was cast as a hostile takeover, and Beijing used this as an excuse to tighten controls on association both real and virtual. It also spread its word of caution in the non-democratic world: “Beware. If you let your guard down, this is what the West will do to you.”
Howard French is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. When you need him at your meeting or conference, do get in touch.