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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?"

War footing for the Olympics

July 9, 2008

David Whitehouse reports on eruptions of discontent in China as the
government prepares for the opening of the Olympic Games.
The Socialist Worker
July 8, 2008

TOP CHINESE officials have urged provincial and local authorities to
"go on a war footing" to head off any protests that could tarnish
China's image in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing, which
begin on August 8.

The instructions, issued during a national teleconference and
reported on the Web sites of several provincial governments, came on
a weekend when 30,000 residents of the southwestern province of
Guizhou rioted in protest over the police handling of a teenage girl's death.

Crowds in Guizhou's Weng'an County besieged government and Communist
Party (CCP) buildings on June 28, torching official offices and cars.
Police had ruled the death of a 17-year-old student a suicide by
drowning, but family members claimed that Li Shufen was raped and
murdered by the son of a local official.

A crowd of 300 grew to 30,000 after receiving news that Li's uncle
had been badly beaten on the street following an attempt to register
a complaint with police over his niece's death.

More than 200 rioters were arrested, and police reported 150
injuries. Police blamed the violence on gangs and criminals, but
amateur videos showed crowds of young and old, workers and students.

The destruction wasn't random. BBC Newsnight blogger Paul Mason
reviewed BBC Monitoring reports from China's official Xinhua news
agency and concluded, "What is clear is the scale of the attack on
the entire apparatus of CCP rule in Guizhou: the party, the police,
the courts and the secret police were attacked, their premises
comprehensively trashed and set on fire."

As BBC Monitoring wrote, "In this incident, the county CCP
committee's building was destroyed by burning; 104 offices of the
county government building were destroyed by burning; 47 offices and
four facades of the office building of the county public security
bureau were destroyed by burning; 14 offices of the criminal
investigation building were smashed up; the entirety of the files and
data at the domicile administration center of the county public
security was destroyed."

Within a few days, the People's Daily reported that a panel of local
and provincial officials admitted the intensity of the crowd's anger
was a consequence of a long buildup of grievances.

Since the People's Daily is the mouthpiece of the central government
in Beijing, this admission of government wrongdoing really amounted
to a staged enactment of a typical strategy for dealing with
protest--blame officials at the lowest possible level for abuses that
are endemic throughout China. The exercise also served to warn lower
officials elsewhere that they would take the blame for outbreaks of
protest in their own areas.

Provincial officials pledged to reopen the inquiry into Li Shufen's
death and admitted "improper handling" of the case by the

Within a few days, the Shanghai Daily reported that Guizhou province
was firing the county's party secretary, the head of the county
government and two top county police officials. The provincial party
chief, Shi Zongyuan, condemned the lower officials in harsh terms,
accusing them of "severe malfeasance" and "rude and roughshod
solutions" to "disputes over mines, demolition of homes for public
projects, the relocation of residents for reservoir construction and
many other issues."

At the same time, Shi continued to blame "criminal gangs" for turning
Weng'an County's legitimate grievances into a riot--and endorsed a
new police campaign against gangs and crime.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN THE days following the Guizhou riot, Chinese sources noted two
more outbreaks of violent anger against authorities--in Hunan
province and in Shanghai.

In Shanghai, a man carrying Molotov cocktails and a large knife
charged into a police building and stabbed six police to death and
wounded several others. The 28-year-old man reportedly had been
interrogated last October on suspicion of stealing bicycles. "Unhappy
about the interrogation, he wanted to take revenge," said the
Singapore-based Straits Times.

Following the initial press reports of the incident, postings on the
Web--which many Chinese use to get around press censorship--claimed
that the attacker had been beaten in custody and was repeatedly
frustrated in his attempts to win compensation, according to the
South China Morning Post. As the Times added, "Shanghai, a city of 20
million has its share of theft and petty crimes, but such violent
attacks are rare."

One day later in Hunan province, a man who was angered at the
demolition of his property detonated two bottles filled with cooking
gas in a government building, injuring 12 people, according to the
Morning Post.

"We all live in the neighborhood and heard about the man," one
resident told the Morning Post. "The government plans to move us off
the land and build a new industrial park to attract outside
investment." He added that the compensation being offered is not
enough to buy similar property in other neighborhoods.

When Chinese fail to get satisfaction from their complaints to local
officials, they often submit petitions to higher levels of
government, which cultivate an image of impartiality. The reputation
is undeserved. The South China Morning Post, based in Hong Kong,
cites mainland media for its claim that only two out of 1,000
petition cases are ever resolved.

It is precisely these appeals to higher authorities that Beijing
officials are concerned to head off in the lead-up to the Olympics.
Nationwide, "petitions and complaint visits grew from 4.8 million in
1995 to 12.7 million in 2005," according to the Morning Post.

Echoing the latest directives from Beijing, an official in Sichuan
province told the Morning Post, "Our most fundamental demand is that
zero protesters go to Beijing, zero go to the provincial capital, and
there are zero mass petitions and mass incidents."

Sichuan is the site of May 12 earthquake that killed 70,000,
including 10,000 schoolchildren. Provincial officials cooperated with
the central government to promptly arrest family members who
protested the shoddy construction of school buildings.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

BUT THE nationwide campaign to quell dissent began earlier this year.
Following riots and major protests by Tibetans in four provinces in
March, officials ordered the detention of thousands of Tibetans--and
Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang--according to human
rights organizations cited in the Straits Times. Activists in Beijing
have also been jailed and intimidated.

Tibet's "government in exile," based in India, claims that 203
Tibetans were killed and about 1,000 hurt in the crackdown, according
to AFP. Beijing says that only one Tibetan was killed--and that
Tibetan rioters killed 21 people.

To neutralize criticism of repression in Tibet, the government
recently held high-level talks with representatives of the Dalai
Lama, the chief figure of Tibetan Buddhism and head of the
"government in exile." The Dalai Lama's main delegate emerged
"disappointed" from the talks on July 4, saying that "the whole
tactic of the Chinese government is to engage us to stall for time."

The next round of talks is scheduled for October. In the meantime,
China's negotiator warned that the talks would be cancelled unless
the Dalai Lama prevents his followers from doing anything to disturb
the Olympics. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly told Tibetans to avoid
disrupting the Olympics, and the Morning Post reported that he has
urged overseas Tibetans to stop protests at Chinese embassies and consulates.

George W. Bush and Japanese President Yasuo Fukuda have pledged to
attend the Olympics opening ceremonies, but French President Nicolas
Sarkozy has made his attendance conditional on progress in the
Tibetan talks with the government. The People's Daily reported that
Sarkozy's stance provoked new outcries from Chinese nationalists, who
rallied by the thousands in April for a boycott of French goods after
Sarkozy condemned the Chinese crackdown and the Olympic torch relay
was disrupted in Paris.

Beijing's nationwide directive to "go on a war footing" against
protests in the coming weeks received a different spin in reports
from some officials. According to the Straits Times, one city
government said that Beijing was recommending a soft touch to keep
small protests from exploding into large ones. Local officials, it
said, should "earnestly solve the reasonable appeals of the masses."

But other accounts suggested that Beijing was urging officials to
take a harder line through the Olympics, and "strictly deal with any
unreasonable troublemakers or matters that disrupt the normal social order."

The language of warfare left no doubt about which message was really
intended. As one account put it, Beijing's directive stated that
"ensuring a smooth hosting of the Beijing Olympics has become a
battle that all [government] levels and departments must win."
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