In Shanghai and Beijing, signs of political unrest are starting to brew. In response, China has clamped down on internet access, banning search words, even names of countries associated with unrest.
For now, police have things under control with a huge display of force relative to the size of the protests. The key words are likely “for now”.
The Washington Post reports Chinese police face down Middle East-style protests
Police and security officials displayed a massive show of force here and in other Chinese cities Sunday, trying to snuff out any hint of protests modeled on the uprisings in the Middle East. In Shanghai, several hundred people trying to gather were dispersed with a water truck.
Officials have used state-run media outlets to dismiss any comparisons with China while at the same time stepping up public comments on the need to address “social conflict” and to tackle problems such as the growing income disparity between the rich and poor. They have also detained a number of activists and human rights lawyers, blocked Internet search terms considered sensitive, such as “Egypt,” “Tunisia” and even U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr.’s Chinese name. And they have issued warnings to foreign journalists to be mindful of reporting restrictions.
A previously unknown group has used an overseas-based Chinese language Web site to call for a series of peaceful, silent protests, named “jasmine rallies” after the Tunisian uprising, on consecutive Sunday afternoons in cities across China. The rallies were called for heavily trafficked commercial areas, public squares and parks, ostensibly so silent protesters could blend in with ordinary passersby to avoid arrest.
However, police on Sunday were out in huge numbers in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities at the sites where the rallies were supposed to take place.
At the Wangfujing protest site in Beijing, a foreign journalist shooting video for a news agency was reportedly punched and kicked in the face by plainclothes Chinese security officers who confiscated his camera. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China reported that more than a dozen other journalists were roughed up at the site.
“I came here today to see how people protest against the government, which is corrupt and rules in an authoritarian way,” said a 71-year-old man, who asked that only his family name, Cao, be used. “Democracy is the trend in the world. No country in the world can be an exception to the process.”
Another man, named Xia, 64, said there were about 400 to 500 people gathering at People’s Square when he arrived around 1 p.m., but they were dispersed by the spray from the water truck. He said he would keep returning to try to protest because he was already in his 60s and not afraid.
On Sunday, Premier Wen sat for two hours for an Internet chat, with the Xinhua news agency and the central government’s Web site, http://www.gov.cn, addressing common complaints and answering questions submitted online. It was Wen’s third such Internet chat session, coming just before the March opening of the National People’s Congress, China’s nominal legislature.
In the session, Wen discussed the problem of corruption, following the recent firing for “discipline violations” of Liu Zhijun, the minister of railways and the top official in charge of China’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail development.
Wen also said the government was adjusting its rapid growth targets to an average of 7 percent for the next five years — and to make sure the growth was balanced and wealth more evenly distributed.
Police Head Off Protests, Premier Vows to Tackle Corruption, Inflation
Bloomberg reports Wen Pledges to Curb Graft, Income Inequality as Police Head Off Protests
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to punish abuse of power by officials and narrow the growing wealth gap as police blanketed Beijing and Shanghai to head off planned protests inspired by revolts in the Middle East.
The root of corruption lies in a government that has too much unrestrained power, Wen said in a two-hour online interview with citizens today. He promised to curtail food costs and tackle surging property prices. Wen also cut economic growth targets and said the government would focus on ensuring the benefits of expansion were more evenly distributed.
Wen’s comments came as hundreds of police deployed in Beijing and Shanghai at the site of demonstrations called to protest corruption and misrule. At least seven people were bundled into police vans near Shanghai’s People’s Square, while in Beijing several foreign journalists were forcibly removed from the Wangfujing shopping district.
“The new five-year plan will be more about quality of growth,” said Kevin Lai, a Hong Kong-based economist at Daiwa Capital Markets. “The government is going to pay more attention to sustainable growth, environment, better distribution of income, rather than pure GDP pursuit.”
An August report by Zurich-based Credit Suisse AG put income inequality levels in China at levels not seen outside of sub-Saharan Africa. High food prices, unemployment and anger over corruption helped spark the protests that toppled Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and fueled rebellion against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
An open letter on the U.S.-based website Boxun.com [Mish Note: Website is in Chinese] called for people to gather in at least 27 sites around the country from Tibet to Manchuria for “jasmine” rallies, named after the uprising last month in Tunisia. “Come out and take a stroll at two o’clock on Sundays to look around,” the letter said.
In Shanghai, at least 23 police vehicles were stationed around Shanghai’s Peace Cinema in the shopping area of People’s Square. Police in Beijing, which included paramilitary units and patrols with Rottweiler and German Shepherd dogs, forcibly removed several foreign journalists from Wangfujing Street at about 2:45 p.m. Police were stationed at every entrance to Wangfujing today.
“You see how the police try to control the crowd? They spend so many resources on this, yet why does the government do so little to improve people’s livelihoods?” said a 72-year-old retired car mechanic in Shanghai, who didn’t want to be named because he feared being detained.
Did you note the irony in Premier Wen Jiabao’s statements? “The root of corruption lies in a government that has too much unrestrained power”, yet the government busts the heads of journalists, blocks internet access, and refuses to let people gather. Finally, the Chinese government bureaucrats plan damn near everything, and the economy is clearly overheating.
If that is not the epitome of “too much unrestrained power”, what is?
In case you missed the fraud and corruption involving China’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail development, please consider Speculation, Investment Scandals, Fraud, and China’s Hard Landing; Miracle of Chinese High-Speed Rail will be Reduced to Dust; Peak Oil Doomsday Clock
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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