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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Will the Ox be as auspicious as the Rat?

February 18, 2009

The New Indian Express
[Tuesday, February 17, 2009 12:57]
By Claude Arpi

“The year 2008 was an extraordinary one in the history of the People’s
Republic of China. In that year China overcame a devastating earthquake
in Sichuan Province; successfully hosted the 29th Olympic Games and
Paralympics in Beijing; and greeted the 30th anniversary of the adoption
of reform and opening-up policies”. Thus starts the new white paper on
defence published by Beijing a few days before the Chinese New Year
(January 26).

One question immediately comes to mind: will the Ox be for Beijing as
auspicious as the Rat? Nobody contests that the Olympics were a
resounding success; Beijing however forgot to mention some darker
aspects of the Rat Year. One of these was the widespread unrest in
Tibet, which lasted nearly two months and resulted in some 200 casualties.

As for the earthquake in Sichuan, the authorities did do some remarkable
work, but the disaster was partially man-made. Fan Xiao, a chief
engineer at the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, recently stated that
the weight of Zipingpu reservoir (315 million tonnes) probably triggered
the quake. The 156-meter-high Zipingpu dam is located 500 metres from
the fault line and 5.5 kilometres from the quake epicentre.

The Ox year too will be a special year of celebrations, if not of

Thirty years ago, on February 17, 1979, Beijing decided to ‘teach a
lesson’ to its Vietnamese brothers. It ended in a fiasco for the
Chinese. Another historic date is March 10, 1959, when the entire
Tibetan population in Lhasa rose against the Chinese invaders. A week
later the Dalai Lama left his palace at night to take refuge in India.
Since then, he has been a refugee in India.

And then there is the 20th anniversary of martial law in Tibet (March 8,
1989); three months later, China witnessed its student revolution, which
ended tragically on Tiananmen Square on June 4. Three thousands students
are said to have lost their lives. Of course, there will be no official
commemoration for these events.

But on October 1, the People’s Republic of China will celebrate in a
grandiose way the 60th year of its foundation.

Mao Zedong told millions of Chinese assembled at the same Tiananmen
Square: “China has risen”.

However, all is not rosy in the Middle Kingdom and the Ox year may be
one of the most difficult. Some problems may be linked to the
‘celebrations’. Chinese (and Tibetans as well) are fond of
commemorations; many important events in the modern history China have
been triggered by ‘memorials’ and this year’s long list worries the
leadership in Beijing immensely.

Another source of unrest is the impact of the financial crisis. The
China Brief of Jamestown Foundation reported: “For the past month or so,
cadres in two topmost organs in charge of internal security — the
Central Commission on Political and Legal Affairs (CCPLA) and its sister
unit, the Central Office for the Comprehensive Administration of Law and
Order (COCALO) have held marathon sessions on how to nip socio-political
instability in the bud.” It is the ‘overriding task’ of the COCALO,
which coordinates the activities of the police, state security and
judicial departments.

According to Chen Jiping, the COCALO director: “2009 would witness an
increase in social risks and the doubling of contradictions even as the
law-andorder scenario becomes more severe and complex.” The economy is
facing many difficulties. Anita Chang of Associated Press wrote: “The
global economic crisis has taken hold deep in China’s impoverished
countryside, as millions of rural migrants are laid off from factory
jobs and left to scratch a living from tiny landholdings.” Beijing has
warned of ‘possibly the toughest year’ of the decade and called for
development of rural areas to offset the economic fallout.

All China watchers agree that if this situation continues for a long
time, it could be a time bomb.

The worst affected is the toy industry.

Around Chinese New Year, the ministry of commerce announced that 922 toy
exporters in Guangdong province closed shop in 2008, out of the 3,089
toy exporters in 2007. In 2001, Dongguan, the main toy manufacturing
centre in Guangdong had up to 4,000 toy factories. Other sectors are
also touched. One is particularly worrisome: the closure of small and
medium scale enterprises (SME) that supply large state-owned enterprises
(SOE) involved in construction. When this sector slows down, the
privately owned SMEs are the first to pay the price. They employ
millions of workers for whom there is no security net.

But as the white paper on defence admits, the jobless are not the only
security threat: “China is still confronted with long-term, complicated,
and diverse security threats and challenges.

Issues of existence, security and development security, traditional
security threats and non-traditional security threats, and domestic
security and international security are interwoven and
interactive….Separatist forces working for ‘Taiwan independence’, ‘East
Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence’ pose threats to China’s
unity and security.” Repression is the only known weapon to tackle this.
A Tibetan website, reported the re-launch of the ‘strike
hard’ campaign first introduced in the 1980s to fight crime and
corruption, though it was mostly used to crack down on political dissent.

According to the official Tibet Daily, the authorities in Lhasa have
detained 81 Tibetans under the scheme. Two detainees are said to have
been caught with ‘reactionary music’ on their mobile phones.

Since then, the Public Security Bureau has raided several residential
areas, hotels, restaurants, guesthouses, Internet cafes and bars in
Lhasa. Nearly 6,000 Tibetans have been arrested since mid-January. It
does not augur well for the forthcoming ‘commemorations’ of the Ox year.
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