Thursday, February 24, 2011

China plays down “Jasmine” threat

BEIJING, February 23, 2011

Chinese officials have ruled out the likelihood of unrest after calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" circulated on the Internet, saying Chinese people had "a common aspiration" for stability and development.

The call for protests in 13 Chinese cities, which originated from a United States-based website, received little response. Nevertheless, the government appeared to take the threat seriously. Over the weekend, deployment of police forces was increased in some cities, restrictions placed on the Internet and dozens of lawyers and activists detained.

"I can tell you in clear terms: I am confident that a Jasmine Revolution will not happen in China," Zhao Qizheng, spokesperson for the Chinese People\'s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body, told reporters on Wednesday.

He said media reports that suggested widespread protests could take place in China were "quite absurd", and "not consistent with the reality in China". Mr. Zhao acknowledged that "in the course of China\'s rapid development" the country faced a number of challenges, including uneven development. But the Communist Party of China and the government, he said, were "not blind to these problems".

The government says the three decades of rapid economic growth it has delivered since economic reforms in 1978 has won it the backing of the majority of Chinese.

"The great development that China has achieved over the past 30 years of reform has been widely recognised," said Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry. "We believe it is the Chinese people\'s common will to focus on development. It is the Chinese people\'s common aspiration to safeguard social and political stability, promote social harmony and safeguard people\'s livelihood."

"No force," he said, "could shake China\'s resolve."

While the government this week expressed its confidence that it had the backing of most Chinese on the back of the country\'s growth, it has also made clear that it would not tolerate any signs of protest.

Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Communist Party\'s Politburo Standing Committee who is in charge of state security, told officials this week it was their top responsibility "to detect conflicts and problems in time".

Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based scholar who has been critical of China\'s policies in its western Xinjiang region, told The Hindu on Wednesday he and other several other scholars had been barred from travelling or leaving the city. Teng Biao, a professor of law at the University of Politics and Law, had been taken away by police and remained unreachable over the past few days, he said. Human rights groups have named several dozen lawyers and activists who have reportedly been detained in recent days.

On Sunday morning, dozens of policemen cordoned off protest sites listed in the circulating message in at least three cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — even though few people appeared to respond.

In Beijing, most of the crowd of a few dozen onlookers at the listed site said they stopped to see the crowd of police and journalists.

There appeared to be no protesters, barring one man who placed a white flower on the ground. He was briefly detained, but later released. In Shanghai, three people were reported to have been arrested after shouting slogans. Gatherings were not reported in any of the other 11 cities.

Despite the poor turnout, Boxun, the United States-based Chinese-language website from where the message originated, posted another message on Wednesday. It called for weekly protest gatherings to be held in the 13 cities every Sunday.

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