The smell of jasmine strikes fear in China’s leadership

Seasoned watchers say this is the most intense drive against dissent by the authorities over the past 15 years

By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver SunApril 8, 2011

The body language of China’s leaders and their minions suggest the ruling Communist party is a lot more fearful of being toppled by a popular uprising than most outside analysts would judge likely.

The intensity of the insecurity and vulnerability felt by the party as it approaches the handover next year to the fifth generation of leaders since it seized power in 1949 is well illustrated by the continuing crackdown and detention of known dissidents.

Ai Weiwei, the internationally renowned artist and codesigner of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium who is being investigated for “economic crimes” after being detained at Beijing airport Sunday, is only one of scores of people whose continuing freedom seems to strike fear into the heart of the Communist party.

Human Rights Watch says it has logged more than 100 detentions in China since mid-February when the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” enabled by online social networks took hold in the Middle East.

Those detained, charged with crimes such as “inciting subversion,” placed under house arrest or simply “disappeared” include eight of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers and dozens of other civil society activists, bloggers, writers and pro-reform political dissidents.

And despite a storm of international protests over Ai’s detention, the Beijing authorities are digging in their heels just as they did last November in the face of calls for the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion after promoting “Charter 08” calling for political reform.

The crackdown continued on Wednesday with the detention of Zhao Lianhai who was imprisoned in 2009 for leading a campaign against the purposeful contamination of children’s milk formula with melamine that killed six and made 300,000 children sick.

Zhao was scooped up from his Beijing home after breaking months of silence -a condition of his parole last December -to call for the release of Ai Weiwei.

And Thursday morning wellknown human rights lawyer Ni Yulan, who was crippled a few years ago while being tortured by police, was detained along with her husband Dong Jiqin.

Several seasoned China watchers have said this is the most intense drive against dissent by the authorities over the past 15 years or so.

That may be so, but it is also a continuation of a campaign against what the Chinese leadership sees as socially disruptive elements that began before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The degree to which the Communist party believes it has a lot of ground to make up if it is to reimpose control of Chinese citizenry and stem opposition to its ideal “harmonious society” was clearly seen at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress last month.

What passes for China’s parliament adopted a five-year Blueprint on Economic and Social Development.

While the document dealt with economic development, the binding element running through the paper was the need to ensure political stability.

The Communist party not only faces unruly behaviour and freedom of expression by the Internet generation, which is constantly finding ways to outsmart the authorities’ vast army of censors. A far more dangerous problem is the estimated 100,000 incidents a year -274 a day on average -“mass incidents” of riots, demonstrations and civil unrest by victims of the current regime.

In almost all cases these disturbances are by people who have had their land stolen, their jobs destroyed, their pension money diverted, or some other act of corruption or thievery by party officials or their close relatives.

The Communist party is adamantly opposed to introducing a reformed political system with accountability of officials and genuine rule of law that is probably the only way corruption can be tackled.

Speaking at the People’s Congress meeting, the body’s chairman, Wu Bangguo, who is also a Politburo Standing Committee member, said ending the exclusive rule of the Communist party would “plunge the country into the abyss of internal chaos.”

So the blueprint envisages a permanent crackdown with newly formed and trained rapid reaction units of the People’s Armed Police and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as well as “social management offices” on every block of every city.

The budget this year for the project to maintain stability is nearly $100 billion, $4 billion more than the PLA budget.

jmanthorpe@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
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