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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

China's year of pomp and vigilance

January 7, 2009

By Wu Zhong, China Editor
Asia Times Online - Kowloon, Hong Kong
Jan 7, 2009
HONG KONG - While the Chinese generally like the number "eight" as it sounds like the word for "fortune", the number "nine" may prove more significant in the modern history of China, at least it did during the second half of the 20th century.
Since 1949 when Mao Zedong proclaimed on Tiananmen Gate the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), many major historical events have occurred in years marked with the number "nine" at the end. These events will all mark their decade anniversaries this year.
Decade anniversaries are important in Chinese tradition. Even the Chinese sage Confucius said of himself: "At 30, I took my stand; at 40, I no longer had doubts; at 50, I knew the will of the heavens; at 60, my ear was attuned; at 70, I follow all the desires of my heart without breaking any rule."
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities will organize grand ceremonies for some of this year's decade anniversaries, such as the 30th anniversary of Beijing's proposal for detente with arch rival Taiwan; the 30th anniversary of the country's establishment of formal diplomatic relations with the United States; and the 60th birthday of the PRC.
But other more sensitive anniversaries are more likely to unnerve them, such as the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan armed rebellion against Chinese rule, and the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. Chinese authorities will be making every effort to prevent any commemorative activities for these events.
After the mammoth job of hosting last year's Summer Olympic Games, the agenda of China's leadership this year, aside from weathering the global financial crisis, will be dominated by organizing celebrations for the former and preventing dissent related to the latter.
The first of the auspicious anniversaries was the January 1 marking of the 20th anniversary of the "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan" issued by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) on New Year's Day in 1979. It proposed an end to military confrontation and the building of direct links in trade, shipping and mail across the Taiwan Strait.
The "message" became an epoch-making document for China-Taiwan relations as it marked a major shift in Beijing's policy from "liberating Taiwan [by force]" to "peaceful reunification". It was also significant that the message was issued during the Cold War, when both sides still occasionally engaged in military confrontations.
In the message, Beijing said it "has already ordered the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to stop shelling Jinmen [Kinmen] island". It also raised the proposal for building direct cross-strait links.
Thanks to the efforts of authorities on both sides, direct links like those called for in the message were eventually achieved at the end of 2008, after three decades of volatile political ties. But despite the closer economic exchanges and direct links, two major political issues remain for leaders on both sides. One is Taiwan's plan to join international organizations, while the other is the signing of a peace accord and the establishment of a military and security mutual-trust mechanism.
Chinese President Hu Jintao hopes to make breakthroughs. In a speech at a function in Beijing marking the 30th anniversary of the NPC message on January 3, Hu said that "reasonable and fair arrangements" for Taiwan's international activities can be made through cross-strait negotiations as long as "two Chinas" and "one China one Taiwan" were not created.
On the second issue, he said that both sides could start pragmatic studies on how to develop their political relations under the current status quo. Apparently, Hu's ambition is to make more progress toward the goal of "peaceful reunification" based on what has been achieved in the past three decades.
This year's New Year's Day also marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of China-US diplomatic ties. Sino-US relations are the most important of China's external ties, and their establishment was not only a landmark event in the two countries' relations, but also marked China's "opening up" to the world. After 30 years of development, Sino-US relations have become quite mature, and with Barack Obama soon to be sworn in as the new US president, Beijing is hoping for further progress.
But this year also marks the 50th anniversary of March 10, 1959, when supporters of the Dalai Lama started an armed rebellion against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region which was quickly crushed by the PLA. Fleeing Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his administration arrived in India on March 31, and have remained there in exile ever since.
On March 10, 2008, some Tibetan lamas in Lhasa and elsewhere took to the streets to mark what they called "Uprising Day". Other Tibetans joined them in the following days with the unrest escalating into riots on March 14, which attracted wide attention at home and abroad ahead of the Beijing Games. Olympic flame relays in many Western cities were dogged by Tibetan independence activists and their supporters.
Tibetans in exile are planning to hold grand commemorate activities this year, including massive protests. (See Tibetans in exile still hold their dream, Asia Times Online, December 16, 2008.) Having drawn bitter lessons from last year, Beijing will be more vigilant and is likely to take wide reaching preventive measures.
The looming anniversary also could partly explain why Beijing was so furious over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama last month. (See China plays Tibet card to the full, Asia Times Online, December 10, 2008).
Given the background, it is interesting to notice an article on the website of the state-run Xinhua News Agency reporting that Chinese authorities have decided to station firefighters in major Tibetan temples. The official explanation is that these temples are wooden structures which could easily catch fire, but this could easily just be a pretext. In China, firefighters are also soldiers of the paramilitary People's Armed Police (PAP).
Tibetan lamas are known to be more supportive of the Dalai Lama, and they often are leaders of pro-Dalai activities in Tibet. Through being stationed in temples, PAP firefighters could help keep an eye on the lamas and crack down on any "illegal" activities. In any case, the presence of the PAP soldiers itself is a deterrence and placing them in Tibetan temples could be regarded as an early preventive measure by Beijing.
Twenty years on, the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen square uprising is another date the authorities would prefer people forgot. Ahead of the anniversary, they have already taken measures to crack down on any activity that could remind people of the event two decades ago.
In November, the authorities put pressure on the publisher of the outspoken monthly magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu (Annals of Emperors Yan and Huang) to stand down, after it printed an article praising Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief who was purged after the June 4 crackdown in 1989 for his sympathies towards the protesting students at Tiananmen. (See China's party hardliners want the last word, Asia Times Online, November 22, 2008.)
On December 8, the authorities arrested dissident writer Liu Xiaobo after he took part in a high-profile signature campaign that called for more freedoms and political reform. Liu is a prominent critic of the government who was imprisoned for 20 months for participating in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.
He was taken by police shortly after "Charter 08", a document calling for greater civil rights and an end to the political dominance of the Communist Party, was circulated online to mark International Human Rights Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the same night, another prominent signatory of the declaration, Zhang Zuhua, a constitutional law expert, was detained for 12 hours on suspicion of "inciting the subversion of state sovereignty".
As of this week, dozens of others across China who have also signed the declaration have been interrogated by the authorities, according to rights activists. (See China kills chickens to frighten monkeys, Asia Times Online, December 20, 2008.)
It can be expected that all dissenting voices and activities will be quashed in the run-up to the June 4 anniversary.
Last, but not least, there is the 60th birthday of the PRC on October 1. According to Chinese tradition, the 60th birthday is the most important in one's life, hence the 60th National Day for the country. In addition to other national celebrations, Beijing plans to hold a grand military parade at Tiananmen.
PLA soldiers are now busy practicing parade steps and Hu will review the parade in his capacity as chairman of the Central Military Commission. This will mark his political career reaching its apex, as it did for his predecessor Jiang Zemin when he reviewed the military parade of 1999.
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