China’s police outnumbered protestors and easily suppressed the first Middle East-inspired mass protests organised online in 13 cities on Sunday.
But the leadership of the second-largest economy showed its insecure side with online censorship of searches for 'jasmine revolutions' and a show of strength to prevent scattered groups from shouting slogans for ‘food, water, work and fairness.’
The protests were largely unreported in the state media. The Global Times indirectly referred to the events with an editorial saying China’s rise requires ‘maturity’ from its citizens. “In theory, it is not totally unfeasible that the nation could fall into social turmoil should its public governance fail,’’ it said.
A day after the protests, President Hu Jintao presided over a meeting of the Communist Party central committee. Officials were ordered to ‘remain sober, be aware of difficulties and work hard’ for the new five-year plan. Ahead of its parliament session in March, Beijing showed intent to control the potential of social tension arising from inflation, unemployment and income inequalities.
“The situation in China is not like that in the Middle East, but there is anger among people,’’ Beijing-based writer-activist Dai Qing told HT. Dai pointed out that Beijing authorities had learnt lessons from the 1989 protests. “The political wisdom of the authorities is not to try reform but only ‘harmonise’ and put people under control,” she said. “But a jasmine revolution is not the way. A democratic society will need lots of people to do lots of work from the factory, village and community upwards; not just to go to big cities to shout slogans.”
Over the tense weekend, the Party leaders indicated that controls on the Internet and dissidence will get tighter. China’s domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang ordered provincial officials to ‘detect conflicts and problems in time’ and ‘reduce social confrontations.’
Hu, who is preparing for a transition of power next year, reminded the top brass to ‘solve prominent problems that may harm harmony and stability.’ The state media said that Hu called for improved management of the ‘virtual society’ and guidance of public opinions online. “Hu acknowledged that despite China's development and growth in national strength, the country is still in a stage where many conflicts are likely to arise. There are still many problems in social management,’’ said Xinhua.
In recent weeks, since China officially surpassed Japan as the second-largest economy, its officials reacted by emphasising that 150 million Chinese citizens still live on less than a dollar a day. ‘Libya’ is the latest search blocked on Chinese microblogs.