By Jacqueline N. Deal
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute
The ongoing standoff between Chinese police and the defiant residents of Wukan, a 20,000-person village about 200 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong, is nothing short of extraordinary. Reports of the arrival of a "China Spring" are premature, but the comparison is closer than anyone would have predicted before last week. Long after authorities from Beijing re-establish control, Wukan's achievement will affect China's internal security policy, succession dynamics in the run-up to the 2012 leadership handover, and even China's foreign policy.
Reporters from Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, have now entered the village. While Wukan residents with access to the Chinese microblogging website Weibo were able to communicate with the outside world through last Thursday, a complete blackout has been implemented in advance of Xinhua's coverage, paving the way for an authorized storyline to emerge. Watch for the central party to make gestures to appease the protesters, imprisoning the most egregiously corrupt local officials and providing some compensation for seized land. This will succeed in quieting down Wukan, but history is likely to remember the impact of what happened there on Chinese domestic security practices, jockeying for leadership positions, and even foreign affairs.
These issues are at the forefront of internal party debates on future economic and social policy in the run-up to next year's leadership transition. A rivalry between spokesmen for different approaches has been much reported. The populist, Mao-invoking leader of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, who launched a very public anti-corruption campaign, is said to be vying with Wang Yang, the leader of Guangdong province where Wukan is located, for a seat on the Politburo standing committee.