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The Chinese Government: Exercises of Power Essay

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2020

Background of the Issue

Over the past 10 days, international news agencies such as CNN, BBC and other similar networks have been covering the rallies that have been occurring in Hong Kong. The reason behind the actions of thousands of local citizens can be traced to the events of 1997 when Hong Kong, a British territory at the time, was turned over to mainland China. During the period of transition, the Chinese government stated that by 2015, Hong Kong would be able to elect their own officials under a democratic process instead of utilizing the party electoral system that was currently in use within mainland China.

Unfortunately, by 2014 it was announced that while the people of Hong Kong could elect an official into office, they had to pick from a list of candidates that had previously been vetted and scrutinized by the governing body of the mainland. From the perspective of the democratic process of elections, it can be stated that the act of selecting from a list of candidates that was chosen for you instead of those that you want in office, goes completely against the concept of a fair electoral process.

It was due to this that several thousand people within Hong Kong rallied in front of the main government building of the city in order to showcase their displeasure over the actions of the mainland government. In this incident, there are two exercises of power that were utilized by the Chinese government in order to control the population. The first centers around the preselected candidates that could run for office while the second relates to the aftermath of the protests wherein the mainland government subsequently implemented a broad censoring initiative throughout the local media and on the internet wherein it clamped down completely on news relating to the protests.

When examining both actions of the government, it must be questioned whether the government is going too far when it comes to the denial of rights that they are implementing (i.e. preventing the freedom of speech and preventing the use of a fair democratically elected constituency to represent the will of the people). Within this context, it must be asked: to what extent is the exercise of power used to control a subject population rational? It is the belief of this paper that the exercise of power to control a subject population can be categorized as being rational only when it serves the needs of the people and not primarily the government.

The Problem with Control

The position of this paper is that while it is necessary to implement the rule of law, this should not be done by removing the freedom of people. This particular aspect is even more relevant when taking into consideration the fact that governments should be stewards of the people (i.e. they should serve the people and focus on what they want). During instances where the government takes a firm position against what the people desire, it cannot be stated that a government is operating the way that a government should be operating.

It is within this context that this paper cannot agree with the actions of the Chinese government when it comes to their actions involving the protestors in Hong Kong. While it is true that the actions of the protestors are disruptive to the peace and order of city and to the economy as a whole, the fact remains that they are merely expressing their anger over the actions of the government that is unwilling to follow on through with a promise that they had made nearly a decade earlier.

When looking at the situation of Hong Kong and China as a whole, it can be seen that the Chinese government has been “overstepping its bounds” when it comes to its exercise of power to the point that it can be considered as irrational. As mentioned earlier, the government has stifled the capacity of the media to properly report on the incidents that are happening within Hong Kong and has prevented social networking sites that operate within the country from mentioning the protests as a whole.

What this is evidence of is a systematic denial of rights is implemented in order to ensure that the population complies with the wishes of the government. This example clearly shows an irrational exercise of power wherein the government denies the people their ability to speak of a topic due to their fear that this may incite more protests in other regions within China (Vidmar 197).

When looking at this example, it can be seen that the irrational abuse of power to control a population is often done out of fear. Simply put, officials abuse their power when they are backed into a corner and have no choice but to go along a certain line of actions due to their need for self-preservation. This particular facet oddly resembles the logic behind the character of the government official in George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” since he shot the elephant just to save his own public reputation (Tyner 263).

Why the Exercise of Power and Control is at times needed

This paper acknowledges the fact that control is at times necessary in order to protect a society from itself. For instance, laws have been developed over the years in direct response to the increasingly complex nature of society and, as a result, this has helped governments to maintain some form of order in a chaotic society. Without some form of control being put in place, it is likely that societies would descend into chaos without an overriding influence in the form of laws and regulations restricting what they can and cannot do.

It is important to note that this is not the first instance that China has implemented a systematic means of controlling the actions and perspectives of its population. The so called “Great Firewall of China” is a regional internet censoring initiative within the country that severely restricts that capacity of local Chinese citizens to access foreign websites that the government has deemed as “subversive” (Lumby 586).

The reasoning behind this is connected to the fact that the internet has transformed over the past few years from “the information superhighway” to a gateway for change and transformation. Evidence of this can be seen in the recent Arab Spring uprisings where social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter were at the forefront when it came to organizing protests and disseminating information.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of people from different regions were able to rally behind a single cause and were able to oust dictators and governments that had been in power for decades. This shows that the power of the internet to influence people and organize rebellions is a real threat to the stability of China, especially when it comes to a possible change in government brought about by internal dissent (Duchâtel 92).

When looking at the implementation of control that the Chinese government has implemented both before and during the Hong Kong protests, it must be asked whether such methods are done in order to protect the populace or protect the government? Censoring the internet does nothing to protect the local populace since it removes their ability to communicate in an unimpeded fashion. Not only that, it restricts their access to information which prevents them from realizing that pertinent issues within their society need to addressed in order to prevent them from escalating in the future.

It is with this in mind that the concept of restricting access to free communication and access to information is a highly irrational method of exercising control over a subject population. It does not benefit the population at all and in fact hinders their capacity to make informed choices. Such restrictions only serve to benefit those in power since it allows them to keep the rest of the population ignorant regarding the various problems and violations to human rights that the government is doing on a daily basis.

Determining the Rational Exercise of Power

When it comes to the rational exercise of power, this paper presents the notion that the exercise of power over a subject population must be done for the benefit of the population itself. For instance, laws governing acts related to murder, theft, kidnappings, extortion and the ownership of property are all forms of power used to control a population yet are done in a way that benefits the population being controlled. This comes in the form of the various protections the citizens of a country enjoy due to such laws being put into effect.

However, in cases where the exercise of power does not benefit a subject population and can even be considered as having a negative impact, then the exercise of power in this instance can be considered as being irrational. The case of China and the protests in Hong Kong are a clear example of this wherein the denial of the freedom of speech in the form of censoring the media and the internet does not benefit the local population at all and even hampers their ability to actually know what is going on.

How does the Irrational Exercise of Power come about?

Governments are fearful of change and often utilize irrational exercises of power due to the negative effects that change could have on elected officials. Present history is full of such instances as seen in one case in Asia where Philippine President Benigno Aquino had his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, brought up on charges of corruption which resulted in her being placed under hospital arrest due to her failing health (Wells 18).

Ousted leaders have not fared well when the governments they presided over are subject to sudden change (i.e. through open rebellion or through protests). It is due to this that they become entrapped by their current actions and method of governance to the extent that it becomes normal to pursue a hard line stance against change despite the need for it (Wells 18). This level of “entrapment” can be seen within the story “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell wherein the main character shot the elephant just so that he would not be portrayed as a fool (Tyner 263).

The same can be said about governments wherein they strive to maintain power just so that the officials will not be subject to undue harassment or persecution once they are out of office. This is due to the fact that those that come after them continue to maintain the same “status quo” with the government resulting in a repetition of the same cycle of oppression just to prevent change from taking place. This cycle can clearly be seen within the context of the protests within Hong Kong wherein despite the demand for change being espoused by the people, the government is taking a hard line stance on it due to the potential for such change to negatively affect the officials later on.

Beneficial Effects of Control

Governments have a responsibility to maintain peace and stability within their own borders and, as such, this often comes in the form of repressing violent internal rebellious acts that are focused against the government. It is based on this that this paper states that the exercise of power to control a subject population can be described as rational only when it serves the needs of the people. When the exercise of power to control a population is done merely due to the self-serving interests of a governing body in order to maintain control due to fear of reprisal later on, it can be stated that this is not rational since it completely goes against what a government stands for (i.e. serving the needs of the people).

Rebellions and mass protests can have a detrimental impact on the health of the local economy as seen in the case of the Hong Kong protests where business transactions have gone to an all time low. Not only that, violent rebellion, as seen in the case of Syria, can result in thousands of deaths and mass migration by people that are looking to escape the carnage of civil war. When taking all these factors into consideration, it can be seen that the use of power to quell such instances can be justified depending on the situation in which a government finds itself.

However, the problem when it comes to the exercise of power is that there is often a gray area where it must be questioned whether power should be utilized or not when it comes to controlling a subject population. For instance, if it is the will of the people to for a change of government to occur, then should not the government acquiesce to the wishes of the people that want such change to occur? Yet, when looking at the case of China, it is clearly evident that the mainland government is going completely against the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.

The reasoning of the Chinese government in this instance is that it is doing this for the sake of stability; however, as explained within this paper, the reason behind their actions is more along the lines of maintaining the status quo so that they will not be subject to reprisals later on. While it is true that there is a logical rationale behind why the government officials are doing this, the fact remains that it is the role of a government to serve the people and not necessarily serve the will of politicians.

Conclusion

Based on what has been presented so far, it is the belief of this paper that the exercise of power to control a subject population can be categorized as being rational only when it serves the needs of the people and not primarily the government. If a government utilizes power for self-serving ends, then it can be stated that the exercise of power in this case is irrational since a government is meant to serve the needs of the people and not the needs of politicians.

Works Cited

Duchâtel, Mathieu. “The Human Rights Clause In China-Europe Negotiations.” China Perspectives 2008.4 (2008): 91-94. Print.

Lumby, Jacky. “Distributed Leadership: The Uses And Abuses Of Power.” Educational Management Administration & Leadership 41.5 (2013): 581-597. Print

Tyner, James A. “Landscape And The Mask Of Self In George Orwell’s ‘Shooting An Elephant’.” Area 37.3 (2005): 260-267. Print.

Vidmar, Jure. “International Community And Abuses Of Sovereign Powers.” Liverpool Law Review 35.2 (2014): 193-210. Print.

Wells, Paul. “The Great Call Of China.” Maclean’s 125.6 (2012): 18-19. Print.

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