Is China's Communist Party threatened by the Protests?

December 12, 2022

Professor William Hurst, University of Cambridge, discusses the recent protests in China and what they mean for the Chinese Communist Party.

Prof. William Hurst appears to the right in front of an email of people protesting in China

Nationwide protests against COVID-related restrictions broke out recently in China following years of a "zero COVID" policy imposed by the Chinese Communist Party. The demonstrations, widespread but not coordinated, were the largest since the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Protesters objected to unpredictable lockdowns, incessant testing requirements, and weeks-long isolation and uncertain access to food as part of the restrictions. At the extreme, protesters called for CCP Chairman Xi Jinping to step down, only a short time after he had solidified his place as the strongest leader in China since Mao. Where will these demonstrations go?  

William Hurst, professor of political science at the University of Cambridge, talks with Ralph Bunche Institute Director and Graduate Center Presidential Professor John Torpey about the origins of the protests in China, how they differ from those in 1989, and the possibilities of regime change. Hurst delves into the mobilization and the contentious politics of China and its local-central interplay, where protesters act as rational actors who use different strategies of bargaining and signaling. Moreover, Hurst addresses the implications of Xi Jinping's consolidation of power for the economic model of China and the prospects of change in the near future. Finally, Hurst discusses the outlawing of extramarital and same-gender sex in Indonesia and the role of religion in politics.

International Horizons is part of the New Books Network of academic podcasts. Subscribe to the RSS feed or find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. A lightly edited transcript follows below. 


John Torpey  00:15

Nationwide protests against COVID-related restrictions broke out recently in China following years of a “Zero-COVID” policy imposed by the Chinese Communist Party.  The demonstrations, widespread but not coordinated, were the largest since the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.  Protesters objected to unpredictable lockdowns, incessant testing requirements, and weeks' long isolation and uncertain access to food as part of the restrictions.  At the extreme, protesters called for CCP Chairman Xi Jinping to step down, only a short time after he had solidified his place as the strongest leader in China since Mao.  Where will these demonstrations go?  

John Torpey  00:59

Welcome to International Horizons, a podcast of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies that brings scholarly and diplomatic expertise to bear on our understanding of a wide range of international issues.  My name is John Torpey, and I’m director of the Ralph Bunche Institute at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York.  We are fortunate to have with us today William Hurst, who is Chong Hua Professor of Chinese Development and Deputy Director of the Centre for Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge.  He is author of Ruling Before the Law: the Politics of Legal Regimes in China and Indonesia (Cambridge 2018) and The Chinese Worker after Socialism (Cambridge 2009).  His current work focuses on the politics of land reform in Mainland China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as on the foreign policy and international relations of China and other countries across Asia and the Pacific.  Prior to Cambridge, he was Professor of political science at Northwestern University. Thanks for being with us today, William Hurst.  

William Hurst  02:07

Thank you very much for having me, John.

John Torpey  02:09

It's great to have you. So maybe let's just start with a brief account of what's happening in China at present. In the aftermath of the fire in Urumqi in Xinjiang province that killed 10 people who couldn't get out of their building due to COVID restrictions, China has witnessed the most extensive demonstrations since 1989. How would you describe these demonstrations and the threat they may pose to the CCP's rule?

William Hurst  02:40

The fire that happened on the 24th of November was not the only incident in which ongoing zero COVID measures and lockdown restrictions appeared to have disrupted the delivery of essential social services or public goods. What happened is that there was a large fire in an apartment tower in which at least 10 people died. Afterwards, video of the incident got out on social media across China. Thus, there were videos of what looked to be fire engines approaching the building, and then being unable to get close enough to fight the fire effectively because of the barriers that were put up on the street.

William Hurst  03:19

You could also hear in the videos the sounds of people screaming and begging to be let out, alleging that they couldn't get out of their apartments that they'd been locked in. Now, we don't know absolutely for certain that people were locked into apartments; the government has denied it. The official interpretation of the videos also does not agree with the idea that firefighters couldn't reach the buildings effectively. Hence, there is a degree of doubt around exactly what happened. But it looks very bad. I've seen the videos. And it's honestly very hard to watch. Then the video got out across social media and diffused widely in Chinese society. People afterwards were touched by the content of the video in a way that motivated them, relatively spontaneously, to protest.

William Hurst  04:14

So if we see, typically, across China for many years, lots of protests every day, at least dozens, really hundreds, most days have happened all over the country. Those tend to be relatively discrete, both in the sense that they're localized, and in the sense that they are clustered around particular sets of grievances, claims, and framing. So we tend to see a lot of labor protests that happen in factories around, usually, specific issues related to working conditions, or employment in those factories.

William Hurst  04:53

We tend to see a lot of student protests on campuses about issues specific to universities and individual campuses. In addition, we tend to see a lot of rural protests, often around taxation, fees, and requisition of land for real estate development. Moreover, we see a lot of these protests regarding urban governance issues and delivery, urban social services, and public goods. Occasionally, we see small outbreaks of more systemic critiques against the Communist Party or against top leaders. In fact, we saw [one] famously just before the start of the 20th Party Congress in October, when one protester sat up on top of a bridge in the northwest part of Beijing and unfurled banners. Many of the slogans from those banners having been taken up by the protesters last weekend on the 26th and 27th of November.

William Hurst  05:56

What seems to have happened is that this fire and the outrage around it formed what I've previously referred to as a structural frame or a mass frame. In other words, a kind of a frame for contentious mobilization that is not systematically or conscientiously or deliberately crafted by an individual or organization. But rather exists structurally in society yet resonates powerfully enough across a wide range of constituents, or constituencies to motivate them to come out to protest relatively spontaneously without that organization. So this one seems to have brought out workers, urban residents that are upset about governance issues, students, and also those with a broader range of regime critiques.

William Hurst  06:49

They protested in quite a large scale and vociferously, for several days: Saturday, Sunday, and in some cases into Monday of that week: the 26th, 27th, and in some cases, the 28th. Yet, they then seem largely to have dissipated the protests. In large part, I suspect, because that structural frame that provided kind of a master narrative began to fray, that some of the protesters just got tired. They decided on Monday that some have got to go to work, or other things were happening for them. Some of the students realized they were really upset about something quite specific, which was the universities moving completely back online.

William Hurst  07:31

And we're beginning to tell students that they had to vacate dormitories and university housing. Yet, when they tried to go home, if they didn't live in the same city, a lot of cities were refusing to allow people to come in from other parts of the country because of fears about bringing in COVID. So the students were angry at their universities that they were being essentially rendered homeless. They weren't necessarily angry about the fire or the other issues. There were then workers who were really angry about being locked into factories, as famously happened in the Foxconn plant and Zhengzhou, because the factory ownership was afraid that lockdown would prevent people from going to work, and they didn't want to shut down the factory. So they forced people to stay inside, to prevent them from having to leave. Then you get these sorts of broader critics of the CCP, who started shifting the narrative if they could, towards claims about censorship and freedom of the press and larger issues that they have with the Communist Party. I think that this actually had the effect of alienating some of the others. So we saw this kind of fraying apart or unraveling of this interwoven set of strands back into distinct repertoires and frames of contention.

John Torpey  08:47

So let me see if I have this straight. Basically, you seem to imply that there are protests around China all the time, lots of them everyday. Now, there has been as a result, in part anyway, of this fire in this apartment building in Urumqi, an upset and unhappiness among people across the country about how the government did or didn't respond to this event and to these deaths. So, there's a brief upsurge of protests that were specifically targeted at the COVID policies and perhaps to a certain extent on CCP rule more broadly, but that those have subsided. And we're back to the kind of status quo of regular but sort of not regime threatening sorts of protests. Is that right?

William Hurst  09:45

It looks that way. It's still very early days, and it's difficult to predict what's really going to happen. But it looks as though what the government did is they basically just signaled that they might think about repression rather than actually repressing harshly, and otherwise just waited for the protest to dissipate, and they do indeed appear to have done so. But the big question now is what enduring impact might they have. We also have another example about fires in buildings from which people couldn't escape. There's a famous example, the Triangle Fire, – I think it was 1910 or so – in which a large number of workers died in a garment factory in Manhattan. There were significant protests after that, some of which went on for a little while and drew together a diverse set of constituencies. They didn't really continue that long from what I can remember. But they did result in significant changes such as fire codes. Additionally, that's one of the reasons why some of the workplace safety laws and regulations came in relatively soon after that. It's possible, although I don't know that we can really yet draw this causal link, to think that the protests have spurred the CCP to think about easing lockdown a bit faster than they had been otherwise. I had thought for a long time that they would be looking to try to roll back some of the zero COVID measures.

William Hurst  11:25

Starting in March, after the two meetings of the Chinese National People's Congress, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress, I thought there'd be strong political reasons to keep them in place until then, but then there were strong economic and social reasons to start rolling them back after that. It's looking now like they might actually be trying to move faster. They might try to be looking more proximately at a date, like Chinese New Year on the 22nd of January, to try to get back to normal. This would be some change. In the last few days, the tone has shifted from the government. There have been some significant, if clearly incremental and gradual steps, taken towards an easing of some of the harshest measures. So it may be that these protests had some effect, even on shifting policy, despite having not really been maintained or sustained for very long,

John Torpey  12:24

Right. To the untrained observer, like myself, it certainly has appeared that the CCP has been inclined to relax the so-called Zero COVID Policy. People seem to be happy about that. Where this leaves the sort of power of the CCP, we can get back to this point later. But in the meantime, a lot of people have raised the problem that the Zero COVID policy has its own kind of boomerang effect: that basically the Chinese population does not have the levels of immunity that we have in the United States, or it's not as high as it could be. But in any case, comparatively speaking, China has low levels of immunity, and therefore is at risk if it relaxes these very stringent COVID measures. It's at risk of large scale outbreaks and potential illness and deaths. So how do you see that kind of playing out?

William Hurst  13:28

I think that's right. And I think that is a legitimate concern among many in the Chinese society and the Chinese state. But it is something that they're trying to address. So there's a couple of reasons why levels of immunity are not that high. One is that because of the very success of the Zero COVID policy, no one has had COVID. Some people might have, but the number of cases is infinitesimally small, relatively, to the population, certainly when compared to a place like the United States or most European countries where the vast majority of people have been exposed by now to the pathogen itself. In China, that's definitely not the case.

William Hurst  14:06

The other thing is that the vaccines were deployed differently in China. So different vaccines were developed and used there than have been used in most other parts of the world. Also, a lot has been made of the fact that these vaccines are apparently at least somewhat less effective. Although they do appear to be safe and not ineffective, right. So they're not used as vaccines by any means. But they've been very widely offered to people in China, but a certain group of people haven't taken them up. That group is elderly people. Elderly people have not taken them up at the same rates that they have in other countries. Some of that is because the vaccines were deployed in a different priority order. So if we look at the US or the UK, the vaccines were deployed clearly in order to reduce deaths from the virus. The virus was all over the place, the government was very concerned to use the vaccine to try to stop people from dying. And so the people prioritized to get vaccinated first, were precisely those most vulnerable to the virus: the elderly and others with health conditions and so forth.

William Hurst  15:12

In China, the vaccines were deployed, at least at first, in order to prevent spread. The virus was controlled and not really in an outbreak. And they were worried about it surging again. And so they tried to prioritize people for the vaccines who were most likely to spread the virus rather than to die from it. So elderly people were not necessarily at the front of the queue. If we look at who didn't get vaccinated in very large numbers in the US, it's young people who are at the back of the line in those early rounds, who by the time the vaccine gets offered to them, they'd already had COVID, or maybe even twice had COVID. Whereas in China, it's the old people at the end of the line, they're also the sort of laggards and taking it up.

William Hurst  15:54

There's other reasons too, I hear anecdotally that people are concerned that the vaccine might exacerbate conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. And so a lot of elderly people have those conditions, and they're worried about using the vaccine because it might exacerbate that. Nevermind the fact that if you don't take the vaccine then you might die from COVID. But what they're doing now, it seems, is that almost like clockwork, on December 1, a major new initiative was launched to try to get elderly people and people who are not vaccinated at all [to get] vaccinated. And I don't think you can do that in 24 hours or 48 hours, you can't launch a major campaign like that. Even the Chinese government isn't that agile and well resourced. So I'm sure that was in the works for a very long time. And I do think the target date for that would be to get a critical mass of elderly people fully immunized in time for the Chinese New Year. Just as, you know, we saw booster campaigns "get your vaccine in time" for Christmas, or in time for the holidays in the US and elsewhere. I think there's a similar logic going on.

William Hurst  16:59

Now, the other issue, of course, is going to be that Chinese vaccines have not been updated, as far as I know, for the new variants. So there aren't yet any updated vaccines available to most people in China. And I don't think it'd be very hard to create those, but it doesn't seem that they've deployed those yet. And nor have they really opted to import the European or American vaccines in large scales, certainly not in large enough scale to offer them to most people. So they're still sticking with vaccines that are not as effective and potentially a bit outdated.

John Torpey  17:37

Let's get back to where all this leaves the Chinese Communist Party. As you know, and have briefly hinted, the Chinese Communist Party had just a few weeks, or very few months, ago endorsed Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third term as Chairman of the Party, and, therefore, is the most powerful person in the country. And there was a great deal of talk of how he was the strongest leader since Mao, and there was basically a great deal of emphasis on the idea that we were going to see this guy for a long time to come. And he really knew how to line up his ducks, and he's got them in a row. Additionally, the Party has very deep and vast resources to kind of control dissent and repress it where they think it's necessary. So, against that background, these protests, however widespread and notable and significant, I think one could see them as just a kind of drop in the bucket. And to some degree, I think that's the kind of position you're taking here. Is that right?

William Hurst  18:55

I'm not sure if they're just a drop in the bucket. But they're closer to that than a sea change, so to speak. You know what happened in October, almost exactly a month before the protests started, is indeed that not just was Xi Jinping endorsed for another five years, and almost certainly, I think, at least another 10 years in power if he stays healthy. What remains there is that Xi was able to line up (I guess you could call them ducks) but all of the top leadership for people who supported him and supported his agenda of institutional strengthening over people who were perhaps more loyal to someone else, or more supportive of other kinds of agendas related to, for example, economic reform. And so it seems clear that he has the capacity personally and in terms of what he's done with China's institutions to be able to move in any number of directions if he so chooses.

William Hurst  20:04

And that's to me, I think, the really interesting story coming out of the Party Congress is that this is not somebody who is a mercurial charismatic leader. He's actually someone who has invested a tremendous amount in writing new rules, strengthening rules that are already there, making institutions almost more rational bureaucratic than they had been before, even as he makes them more directly accountable to him, and hierarchically authoritarian. So it seems to me he doesn't have to do that just to stay in power. He's doing that I suspect in order to advance some kind of a much larger agenda.


William Hurst  20:44

COVID, I don't know if this is part of that agenda or not. Interestingly, one of the key things that he emphasized in his opening speech of the Party Congress, and that was mentioned several times, in the work report presented there was that Zero COVID was a top priority. And all of the famous slogans that Xi Jinping loves to reference with respect to COVID were indeed referenced multiple times: persistence is victory; if we're not advancing, we're retreating; we need total war and people's mobilization against the virus in order to have a complete defeat of COVID. Nothing short of that is acceptable in all of these very hardline and very staunch rhetoric. So what I think is really notable is the rapidity with which many, including Xi Jinping himself, appeared to be climbing down from the harshest rhetorical heights of that line, and also initiating some kind of small substantive changes.

William Hurst  21:44

So the protests are not a drop in the bucket in that sense. But in another sense, China's government and local authorities have learned a great deal about how to confront contentious challengers. Twenty, thirty years ago, I don't think they would have been able to cope with these protests as effectively as, in fact, they have now. And what I think has been learned as an important lesson is that sometimes repression is too risky and too costly to be the first option. That waiting the protests out can be more effective, even when you're operating from a position of strength, than going quickly to reach for the repressive tools in the toolbox that the government has.

John Torpey  22:34

Interesting. This reminds me of an item, at least the online version, some version of The New York Times in which Mike Abramowitz, the head of Freedom House, is asked basically whether these regimes in Iran and China are at risk of being brought down by these protests. Now, what you just said suggests that's probably not the case. But his response was, "Well, I think these regimes are more brittle than we see from the outside, as we know from the Soviet Union, regimes can seem impervious to change until they're not." So I'm curious how you would respond to that kind of comment?

William Hurst  23:20

I think there's some validity to that. But I think it's impossible to predict sort of where the tipping point might be. There's a lot of famous scholarship around the 1989 to 1991 period in Central and Eastern Europe (including the USSR, but not exclusively, the USSR. I think, particularly in East Germany.) Karl-Dieter Opp was one of the key people in making this argument that there was a turning point reached at which there was a certain number of people that were engaged in this very high risk protest, such that joining the protest had more sense of a higher chance of being effective and safe than of being ineffective or dangerous.

William Hurst  23:20

And so once people perceive that tipping point, things unraveled very quickly. I don't think, if I had to guess, that China is anywhere that close to that tipping point. But that doesn't mean it could never get there. I think the question is just how far away are we from that? It may well be that the tipping point is closer in a place like Iran. But what I think is instructive about not just the protests, but the response that we've seen, is that 25 years ago I was always struck and thinking about different responses that local governments could take in China to protest. And I kind of argued that, if a government is really strong, they'll give some concessions and they'll try to bargain, and they can do that because they can afford to take on then all the other people who will be induced to protest afterwards.

William Hurst  24:58

So if I give you what you want, or some have what you want, I can easily reach a kind of a Nash bargaining solution with you, such that I give you enough that you'll go home, but not so much that I can't afford it. But what about the ten other people who will show up and ask for the same or better tomorrow? If I'm confident I can deal with all of them, then I'm going to bargain if I'm really strong and really powerful. And that's what we saw happening with workers’ protests, for example, in Shanghai in the late 90s, early 2000s. And then if I'm not as strong, but I still have a pretty high capacity, if you come out and protest, I know I can't deal with those other ten people, I'm going to repress you and repress you very harshly if I can in order to signal to everybody else that I'm repressive, and not conciliatory, and therefore deter all of those other people. And I can bear the cost of repression, because I've got enough resources for that. My reputation is sort of strong enough that I don't mind being criticized for repressing you either. I can sort of deal with those slings and arrows that come my way. But if I'm really weak, at the local level, I can't do anything. Where I'm not strong enough to repress, I'm not confident that I could manage to repress you successfully, I don't have the capacity, or I'm so broken by so many years of attack on my reputation, that I'm scared that I would look so bad by repressing you that I don't want to try. And I certainly can't bargain with you, because I've got nothing to give, then I just don't do anything. And if anything, I might use the fact that you're protesting to try to signal to people higher up the chain in the central government or in the province: “please give me more resources so I can actually do something for this aggrieved party”. And that's what we saw actually happening and workers’ protests in parts of the northeast of China during that time.

William Hurst  26:45

Now, what's happening here is that we've seen protests where the claims are being directed precisely against the central government. Now, another thing that always used to fascinate me was this idea of hidden targets; that the protesters might actually be angry with the central government, but targeting the central government won't get you anywhere. So you target the local government, and through that, try to get the central government to act to ameliorate the problem.

William Hurst  27:13

In this case, it almost seems like the protesters were targeting the central government directly to try to get the local government to act. So there's a bit of a reversal there, or an innovation of tactics and targeting based on what we've seen before, we're seeing something different now. The other thing is that the government seems to have adopted the "Do Nothing" response, not from a position of weakness, but from a position of, I think it'd be, a self-perceived strength: I don't have to respond, I can afford to wait this out. And you'll get tired of this, or your movement will break apart before I have to do anything, whether repressive or conciliatory. And that seems to have actually worked. So it's an interesting reversal, both of the tactics and targeting of the protesters and of the responses that we saw from the state.

John Torpey  28:01

It's interesting from the point of view that a lot of the Chinese state strength in the last 40 years has had to do with its economy, with the massive improvement in the well-being of millions and millions of people, which has slowed noticeably and not least because of the Zero COVID policy. So what exactly is the source of the strength? And what is the weakness that's coming out of the slowing of the economy?

William Hurst  28:30

I think there's a couple of factors to this. There's issues around the economy. And then there's what we can read from the politics of how it's been handled, about the way the state views the economy versus other areas of policy. So in terms of the economy itself, there's two issues: there's a longer term issue and a shorter term issue, or sort of generalized chronic issue and proximate issue. The chronic issue is that after 2008, China's export oriented industrialization model doesn't really work anymore for delivering very high rates of GDP growth, the way that it did for about 15 years after 1994. And to date, China has not yet been able to hit upon or implement a viable replacement. And they've been trying for a long time.

William Hurst  29:20

I remember going to a conference in Beijing in 2010 with some officials and scholars and a bunch of international academics and others, in which people from the central government stood up and said: "We can't rely on export processing manufacturing anymore. We need to move up product cycles, we need to move into higher value added sectors." I was a bit surprised to hear that because I hadn't heard it so starkly put before but that became the official line. There were all these attempts to find the new Made in China 2025 strategy, and all these different things. None of them yet has fully worked. And so there's a problem there of kind of falling into this trap of a partial reforming equilibrium or middle income trap, or whichever way you want to phrase it, where further upgrading is really difficult or escapes the ability of the state to do it.

William Hurst  30:08

The more proximate issue is indeed Zero COVID policy and all of the supply chain disruptions and restrictions, which have been collectively absolutely devastating to the Chinese economy in the past several years. It's very difficult to quantify or get exact data on how bad those effects have been. But it's obvious that they've been really severe. So the economy is in very bad shape, that's for sure. Now, what does this tell us, though, is about sort of more general political orientation.

William Hurst  30:36

Jiang Zemin died, also within the last 10 days, which is another key event on top of the protests almost right as the protests were beginning to die down. Jiang Zemin died in a way that many thought might reinvigorate protests or provide a new kind of master frame in a way that the death of Hu Yaoban in 1999 did in motivating a lot of people initially to turn out to protest then. It didn't, at least not so far. But what is instructive when reflecting upon Jiang Zemin versus Xi Jinping, in terms of this, this view of the economy versus other things, is that Jiang Zemin was very clear that China needed to grow its economy and become more prosperous in order to build political power. Political power would follow from economic development.

William Hurst  31:27

Xi Jinping hasn't quite said this, but my perception is that he's almost reversed this. He's looking at this through sort of a converse process in which he thinks he needs to strengthen the political institutions, and political authority and control, and his political position before we can really worry about economic development, which is why I suspect that what may be in the cards is actually a renewed focus on a serious restructuring of the economy, once we get beyond the Zero COVID period, and certainly once we get beyond March, and those two meetings that I mentioned. I think that it may well be that we see a very significant new initiative on restructuring or reform of the economy, such that we haven't seen really in almost 20 years or more.

John Torpey  32:18

Well, we'll have to wait and see what happens in the Chinese case. But since you're also an expert on Indonesia, I wanted to sort of ask a question that may connect to the China situation. They've just now voted for kind of outlawing sex outside of marriage, which not only makes it illegal to have sex if you're not married, but also makes it illegal for gay people to engage in sex because they're not going to be married. And I wondered because Indonesia, sort of famous for this easygoing kind of Islam. And yet this move seems to have been attributed to a kind of stronger drive on the part of conservative Muslims to make this kind of statement. I'm just wondering, it seems to fit into a larger pattern, particularly with Russia. But Russia, Hungary, and China is in some sense, at least allied with Russia. I mean, whether this is part of what seems to be a larger kind of culture war against the West? Or is this sort of a one off that has other causes? Is this part of a growing kind of anti-Western coalition that sees the West as decadent. This term decadent is kind of emerging as part of the discussion, which I find intriguing, a little worrisome, but intriguing, and unusual. So I'm curious what you would say about what's going on in Indonesia.

William Hurst  34:01

I think there's a couple aspects to how this came about in Indonesia. So one is, indeed, that what we've seen over the last ten or fifteen years in Indonesian politics is an increasing mobilization of political parties and political groups (very often, actually, not political parties, but political groups) that are Islamically inflected and claim at least to be pursuing an agenda of bringing religious values into the political and social arenas, and especially in the last ten years. But even before that, in Indonesia, as is, I think, increasingly true and much of the world, their focus has not been on kind of high politics, or grand strategy, and not trying to remake what states are or how they relate to each other, or form some kind of new religiously based confederate US states, nothing like that. But rather to take on these kinds of social issues, and petty political issues much closer to home, where this kind of new face of Islamism --if we want to call it that-- which is much more about sort of regulating the family rather than regulating national life with a family of nations.

William Hurst  35:24

And I think that's part of what this is. It's also true that Indonesian politics for the last 10 years or so, since the run up to the 2014 election especially, there has been a rising tide of mobilization of what we could call a populist variety, particularly tied to one politician, Prabowo Subianto, who is now actually serving in government, alongside his erstwhile rival Joko Widodo is just sitting president. But not only Prabowo, but others that he's tried to mobilize and others trying to mobilize even against him, have tapped into this idea that it's important to bring in groups and constituencies and segments of society who previously had felt excluded, or repressed or disrespected. And to do so in ways that are extraordinary to the quotidian of usual patronage politics and dividing the spoils that tends to dominate the arena in Indonesia.

William Hurst  36:32

And so that's been sort of the push on the rhetoric, this criminal code isn't exactly that. And I would hesitate to say it's populist, because to be populist is to be democratic, but not legal in your orientation. It’s to be sort of demagogic rather than democratic and formally rational. This is democratic and formally rational, but it is bowing to the concerns of populist groups and politicians, in a way, I think, to try to co-opt or steal their thunder. So I think actually, there are some politicians who voted for this, and have advocated for this in order not just to advance the substantive agenda of what's there, but actually to kind of do it and run around what could be kind of more populist, anti-institutional mobilization later.

John Torpey  37:24

Interesting. Well, we'll have to come back and have a longer discussion about Indonesia sometime in the future. But that's it for today as I'm afraid we're out of time. I want to thank William Hurst of the University of Cambridge for sharing his insights about the situation in China and to some extent in Indonesia today. Look for us on the New Books Network and remember to subscribe and rate International Horizons on Spotify and Apple podcasts. I want to thank Oswaldo Mena Aguilar for the technical assistance, as well as to acknowledge Duncan Mackay for sharing his song “International Horizons” as the theme music for the show. This is John Torpey, saying thanks for joining us and we look forward to having you with us for the next episode of International Horizons.