Beijing sees no chance of Chinese 'jasmine' revolt
A spokesman for the central government's top advisory body yesterday rejected the notion that an uprising inspired by the 'jasmine' revolts in Egypt and Tunisia could break out in China. He was the first high-ranking official to respond directly to fledgling protests in mainland cities on Sunday.
'I can tell you in full confidence that kind of revolution will not happen in China,' said Zhao Qizheng, a spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Zhao's comments came as a renewed call for activism was being distributed online, appealing for demonstrations in 18 cities this Sunday and as news broke of further arrests in relation to last weekend's protests.
Meanwhile, Vice-President Xi Jinping, wrapping up a four-day study session on strengthening social control, told provincial government and military leaders to investigate new methods to 'work with the masses through every aspect and every segment of social management to maintain social harmony by eliminating social contradictions at their source'.
Xi made no direct reference to the recent protests.
An open letter posted on the US-registered blog boxunblog.com encouraged mainlanders to go for a 'walk' at 2pm every Sunday in prominent locations across the country.
'You only need to walk to the allotted venue, watch from a distance, follow in silence, and go with the flow, bravely call out your slogans,' the letter said. It gave the operation the code name 'dual sessions' - a reference to the simultaneous meetings of the CPPCC and the National People's Congress in Beijing, which start on March 3 and March 5 respectively.
It added new cities to the list of demonstration venues - including Urumqi in Xinjiang and Lhasa in Tibet, both scenes of protest in the past. There were minor protests and scuffles with authorities in 13 cities on Sunday.
The protests - styled after the 'jasmine revolution' in Tunisia - saw several hundred people gather in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities, but many were onlookers and it was difficult to estimate the number of genuine protesters.
Activists received an unexpected boost when the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, was photographed near the Beijing protest. The US embassy said yesterday his presence was 'purely coincidental'.
Rights organisations condemned the response to the protests, which a Hong Kong campaigner called 'white terror' tactics. China Human Rights Defenders estimated on Sunday that 70 to 80 dissidents and lawyers had been detained or placed under house arrest, including Beijing-based rights lawyers Teng Biao , Jiang Tianyong and Xu Zhiyong .
Internet censorship also appears to have been tightened, with mainland-based search engines rejecting searches for terms including the word 'jasmine' in Chinese.
The Hong-Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said yesterday that Beijing-based dissident Chen Wei was now formally under arrest, while another activist, Wuxi resident Hua Chunhui, had also been detained for distributing information about the rallies on the internet.
There were unconfirmed reports in Shanghai that at least three activists detained after Sunday's demonstration could not be contacted.
CPPCC spokesman Zhao dismissed as absurd any speculation that the disturbances could build into something akin to the storm of pro-democracy protests that have spread across the Middle East.
'In a city of 15 million people only a handful of people on the street voicing their concerns, I don't think that's going to result in an immediate change,' he said. 'I believe there is a small proportion of people who wish to see China in turmoil and chaos, but turmoil and chaos will not happen in China.'
Zhao conceded 'many problems' had arisen due to the country's rapid economic growth but insisted the government was not blind to them.
In Hong Kong yesterday, about 30 activists - from the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic diocese - marched to the central government's liaison office to call on Beijing to release detained activists and lawyers.