Stunning how scared they are! Stunning how scared are Chinese and Russian leaders of Chinese and Russian followers!
It’s the single persuasive explanation for why officials in China and Russia have consistently clamped down. For the last several years they have been frightened of nothing so much as plain people threatening their hold on power. Threatening to claim their own voice. Threatening to challenge persons in positions of authority. Threatening to trigger their fall from power.
Not a week goes by without evidence of the syndrome. In China just recently the authorities detained dozens of rights lawyers and social activists; dozens more were summoned by the police, admonished, and warned not to speak publicly or to take any action on behalf of the detainees. In Russia just recently the MacArthur Foundation made the difficult decision to shut down its operations in Moscow, bowing to Russian lawmakers preparing to ban groups deemed “undesirable” and purportedly posing a threat to Russia’s security. Similarly, last month in Hong Kong, which is in thrall to Beijing, legislators failed to approve a system that would have allowed citizens a measure of freedom in their selection of chief executive. (Recall just last year Hong Kong activists seized center stage, by occupying key parts of the city for weeks.)
The question is how long? How long will Chinese leaders be able largely to stifle Chinese followers? How long will Russian leaders be able largely to stifle Russian followers? Of course I have no answer to these questions. What I do know though is that the trajectory of history does not favor the politically powerful over the politically powerless.