Foreign minister denies tensions despite police presence and arrests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

In a veiled reference to recent anonymous calls for anti-government 'jasmine' rallies, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi denied yesterday that they had caused domestic tensions despite the massive show of force by police in big mainland cities during the past three Sundays and arrests of activists across the country.

'You said the situation in the country appears to be tense. I can't see any such signs,' Yang said, answering a foreign reporter's question at a press conference during the annual legislative session of the National People's Congress.

'Chinese people ... are busying themselves, working hard, focusing on moving ahead on the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This is what I am seeing now. We don't want people creating trouble out of nothing.'

Following calls for protests inspired by the uprisings that rocked the Middle East, authorities went on high alert and deployed thousands of police, plain-clothes agents and security guards to patrol crowded city centres in Beijing, Shanghai and dozens of other cities on the past three Sundays - even though there were no obvious protests. Helicopters were used in the capital to help patrol areas deemed sensitive.

More than 100 activists and rights lawyers have been detained or put under house arrest, and several influential bloggers who had relayed the appeal on microblogs have been arrested on subversion charges.

Analysts say the jittery government response indicates the authorities are keenly aware of the social tensions that arise out of a huge wealth gap, public resentment over official corruption and rising food and housing prices.

Foreign journalists have also been targeted: dozens in Shanghai and Beijing have been detained over the past two Sundays.

One journalist was kicked and punched by unidentified men in Beijing's Wangfujing shopping area on February 27, and several were manhandled and had reporting materials destroyed or confiscated. Police have visited or phoned more than a dozen correspondents at their homes and demanded to see identity documents; some journalists said they were followed by plain-clothes officers. More have been warned that they face losing their visas and possible arrest if they continue to cover the events.

But Yang denied that police had beaten anyone. 'There is no such issue of police officers beating foreign journalists,' he said.

'We'll continue to facilitate journalists' legal and reasonable reporting activities, but we hope foreign correspondents could abide by Chinese laws, too.'

Journalists and activists on the mainland are sometimes harassed and roughed up by unidentified men while police look on.

'If you don't co-operate with the police, they rough you up ... this is the worst I've ever seen,' said a foreign journalist who has lived in China for more than 10 years. He declined to be named, for fear of reprisals.