Thursday, July 21

Strange days in China: return to the Mao Zedong era and a remarkable televised address to the mainland

"During the class struggle in the Mao Zedong era, particularly in the ideology field, there was at least tension followed by slackening; but now, there is only tension followed by tension, and every policy is an act of force. (1)

Two very different reports, two very different pictures of media control and the attitude of the Chinese Communist Party regarding expression of human rights in mainland China. On some issues, a very strict crackdown on the media and human rights issues. But on the matter of the riots inside China, at least one prominent Western journalist (Howard W. French) is given great access, and a CCP official goes on national television to virtually express open sympathy with the rioters.

We'll begin with the crackdown part of the story:

"The “Color Revolutions” occurring in Central Asian countries have caused panic within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In late May, Hu Jintao, CCP General Secretary, issued an internal order to implement policies aimed at preventing the U.S. and Europe from starting Color Revolutions in regions surrounding China. The report, disseminated all the way down to the county-level, ordered strict controls over the media, strengthening of the monitoring and control of dissidents and civil rights advocates, and a complete review and closure of all companies printing dissident materials. (1)

"In the beginning of this year, the CCP’s Central Committee issued the book How the Reagan Government Destroyed the Soviet Union to all cadre members. In early May, Robert Zoellick, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, visited six countries in East Asia.

"In Vietnam, one of the countries he visited, two thousand political prisoners were released the day before Zoellick arrived. Zoellick discussed democracy and religious freedom with Vietnamese Premier Phan Van Khai, and officially invited the Vietnamese leader, on behalf of President Bush, to visit the U.S. in June.

"Meetings between China’s neighbors and the U.S. have put Chinese officials on high alert. The CCP Politburo discussed the Vietnamese situation for an entire evening. The political revolutions and the internal economic problems have made the Hu regime extremely nervous; however the recent sharp rise in petroleum prices was very alarming, especially after being advised by a special interest group that had ulterior motives.

"The special interest group reported to Hu Jintao that the current sharp rise in petroleum prices was orchestrated by the U.S., the world’s Number 1 oil consumer, and was aimed directly at China; the action was compared to the lesson learned from Reagan’s policy of intentionally depressing oil prices in the 80s to break down the Russian economy.

"On top of this, the U.S. assisted Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia to jointly form the Malacca Strait Security Center to stop piracy in their shipping lanes, which was also viewed as exerting international pressure on China and threatening the petroleum shipping lanes to China. A decision by the U.S. Congress to prevent China from buying UNOCC would spell further problems ahead.

"While under this extreme pressure, and suspecting danger around every corner, Hu Jintao presented the Fighting the People’s War Without Gunsmoke report to the internal conference. It was said that many of the CCP cadres who read the report exclaimed in surprise that the Mao Zedong era was back. [...]" (1)

Now to the second story, as reported June 20 by Howard W. French for The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:

"Protesters in China get angrier and bolder
After three nights of increasingly heavy rioting, the police were taking no chances, deploying dozens of busloads of officers and blocking every road leading to the factory.

"The police began deploying in large numbers before dusk Monday, but the angry villagers had already made their moves. They had learned their lessons after studying reports of riots that had swept rural China in recent months. Sneaking over mountain paths and wading through rice paddies, they made their way to a pharmaceuticals plant, they said, for a showdown over the environmental threat they say it poses.

"As many as 15,000 people massed here on Sunday night and fought with the authorities, overturning police cars and throwing stones, undeterred by thick clouds of tear gas.

"Fewer people turned out on Monday evening under rainy skies, but residents of this factory town in China's wealthy Zhejiang Province vow they will keep demonstrating until they have forced the 10-year-old plant to relocate.

"This is the only way to solve problems like ours," said one protester, 22, whose house sits near the smashed gates of the factory, where the police were massed. "If you go to see the mayor or some city official, they just take your money and do nothing."

"The riots in Xinchang are part of a rising tide of discontent in China, with the number of mass protests like these reaching 74,000 last year from about 10,000 a decade earlier, according to government figures.

"The details have varied from incident to incident, but the recent wave of protests shares a foundation of accumulated anger over the failure of China's political system to respond to legitimate grievances and defiance of the local authorities, who are often seen as corrupt.

"A sign of the leadership's concern over the turbulence can be seen in a proliferation of high-level statements.

"In a nationally televised news conference this month, Li Jingtian, deputy director of the Communist Party's organization bureau, complained that "with regard to our grass-roots cadres, some of them are probably less competent, and they are not able to dissipate these conflicts or problems."

"In another widely remarked statement, Chen Xiwen, an economics vice minister who oversees agricultural affairs, saluted the Internet's role [emphasis mine] in allowing the central government to learn of unrest more quickly and praised demonstrating farmers for "knowing how to protect their rights."

"The people of Xinchang were reluctant to speak openly about the uprising because they would be subject to immediate arrest if identified. But from conversations with numerous residents, many of whom took part in the demonstrations, it was possible to put together a detailed picture of the events.

"In Xinchang, as with many of the recent protests, the spark involved claims of environmental degradation. [...]

"In many of China's other recent riots, word has spread fast among organizers and protesters by way of cellphone messages, allowing crowds to mass quickly and helping demonstrators coordinate tactics and slogans.

"In Xinchang, however, residents say new technology, like the cellphone, has played little part. Instead, many residents say they were moved to action after years of unhappiness about industrial pollution by copies of newspaper headlines from Dongyang. That city, a mere 80 kilometers, or 50 miles, away, was the scene this spring of one of China's biggest riots, in which more than 10,000 residents routed the police in a riot over pollution from a pesticide factory.

"Despite tight controls on news coverage of the incident, the riot in Dongyang, where the chemical factory remains closed months later, has entered Chinese folklore as proof that determined citizens acting en masse can force the authorities to reverse course and address their needs. [...]" (2)

Pardon Pundita's cynicism, but I wonder how a newspaper in Dongyang was allowed to carry such incendiary news. And the "years of unhappiness" about industrial pollution and all the other abuses that caused riots during the past year have been going on for decades in China and complaints have been very brutally suppressed.

Yet within less than a year of Jiang Zemin stepping down, not only are riots skyrocketing all over China, but also certain authorities are loosening the reins on the rioters and even showing sympathy for them.

Something is not quite adding up, in light of the first story. It is early days for speculation, but Pundita wonders whether Jiang Zemin's faction is somehow in the mix.

One would like to think that Jiang's departure has simply made a climate in which it's a little easier for abused Chinese to demand their rights. Yet there is possibly another explanation: that Jiang's faction didn't take their loss of power sitting down and that they've used connections with local party bosses and sympathetic factions in the PLA to encourage a less draconian response to the rioting.

Speaking of two very different stories, there are two very different versions of Jiang Zemin's early standing down from leadership of China's military. One, the official version as reported by the BBC. The story there is that Jiang decided to stand down for the good of the party, the state and the armed forces.

Two, the unofficial version, which is that Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan 'asked' Jiang Zemin to stand down.

The second version is a window on a struggle between two factions that's as much about class as power, and which had been growing for years before Jiang's departure.

As I noted, it's early days for speculation. But in light of Hu Jintao's planned visit to Washington this September, it's helpful to review, or learn about the two factions:

The BBC version.

The unofficial version (via The Epoch Times).

1) CCP pulls out stops to block Color Revolution (The Epoch Times).

2) Protestors in China get angrier and bolder (The New York Times via International Herald Tribune).

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