Thu, Feb 27, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Trouble in the rose garden

Bombs exploded at China's top two universities yesterday -- at Beijing University and Tsinghua University. The explosions injured nine people. Despite all the unanswered question at this point regarding the motive and identity of the perpetrators, the incident sends this very important message: China is not, as some would have people in Taiwan believe, a rose garden. And garden or not, it has some very thorny problems to deal with.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the US, some have mused that China had become just about the only safe place to do business -- an oasis in the desert for thirsty businessmen. After all, the Chinese government gives top priority to stability and safety, willing to resort to all possible means to accomplish that objective -- even if it meant violating human rights by driving beggars and migrant workers out of the cities or spying on and imprisoning political dissidents.

According to news reports about the bombing incidents, the evidence suggests that the manner in which the crimes were committed make it more than likely that the bombings are the work of someone with a severe grievance against society. Others think that the crimes were expressions of the dissatisfaction and frustration about the slow pace of political reform in China.

Whatever the mindset of the bombers, in view of the timing, locations and the targets of the crimes, many believe that the perpetrators are trying to send a message to the Chinese government. After all, the bombing took place just days before the convening of National People's Congress, during which China's Vice President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) ascension to government leadership will be endorsed. The fact that the crimes took place in the nation's capital -- at the alma maters of many top Chinese officials, including Hu himself -- also supports this view.

Indeed, the people of China have good reason to feel frustrated and dissatisfied. They remain among the most deprived people in the world when it comes to freedoms, democracy and human rights. And while China's economy may be thriving, the country's serious wealth-gap indicates that most Chinese are left out in the cold -- far from the prosperity brought by China's economic boom.

According to statistics released by the People's Daily, in 1990 the average income of the top 20 percent o households was 4.2 times greater than the average of the bottom 20 percent. By 1998, the households at the top were making 9.6 times as much as those at the bottom. There is little to suggest that things have improved in the past five years; in fact they have probably become worse.

The public resentment has built up to the point that even the Chinese government feels the need to make some high-profile token gesture to alleviate it. Reportedly, it was that desire to assuage the public outrage that had led to arrest of famous Chinese actress Liu Xiaoqing (劉曉慶). Liu, who often boasted about being one of the wealthiest women in China, was nailed last year for tax evasion. At the same time, the government made embarrassing appeals asking the common people to "not resent the wealthy."

Among the hordes of problems keeping the Chinese government busy is the ever expanding issue of official corruption. Even Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) characterized it as a crisis that could bring about the fall of the Chinese Communist Party.

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