The Tocqueville paradox
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Just as the de Tocqueville paradox predicts, the softening of repression is more likely to make the existing form of repression even less tolerable. Naturally, China's pro-democracy forces have capitalised on the political opening created by China's leadership transition to press for real change and test whether Xi's reformist rhetoric will be matched by reformist deeds.
In fact, human rights activists and liberal intellectuals fired the first shot in China's renewed struggle for political openness shortly before Southern Weekend's journalists defied the censors. At the end of last year, a group of prominent academics, writers, and social activists published an open letter to the CPC, calling for democracy and the rule of law. Some days ago, human rights advocates pushed away a security guard blocking access to the apartment of Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and met her for 15 minutes. This was no ordinary act of political courage. The Chinese government has made her a virtual prisoner in her own apartment since October 2010, when her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By meeting her in person, China's dissident community not only showed their moral support, but also delivered a black eye to the face-conscious Chinese government.
Based on the logic of the de Tocqueville paradox, similar acts of defying one-party rule will only increase in the future — as long as the new Chinese leadership maintains its current strategy of projecting a reformist image.
This, undoubtedly, will put the new leadership team, particularly Xi, in a political quandary. If Chinese leaders allow such challenges to continue and escalate, they will risk a Chinese-style glasnost that will eventually threaten their hold on power. If they choose to crack down on these progressive social forces, they will destroy their credibility as more open-minded and reformist leaders. At the moment, it appears that the soft-liners in the regime may have a slight upper-hand. But the hardliners are merely waiting to pounce — when their opportunity comes.
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