/ 21 February 2011

Chinese state-run media play down protest calls

China’s state media on Monday dismissed a weekend web campaign for Middle East-style protests as “performance art”, while also urging public patience over a number of contentious social problems.

“The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have spread in the Middle East, and some in the West want China to become ‘the next Egypt’. This is simply impossible,” said the English-language Global Times.

The commentaries hinted at growing official concern among China’s communist rulers over the potential for Arab-style unrest — which has been facilitated by the use of the internet — to trigger similar uprisings in China.

Police in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere came out in force Sunday after internet and mobile phone text messages apparently originating from overseas Chinese activists called for demonstrations in more than 10 major cities.

In the end, only a handful of demonstrators came forward at the designated protest sites.

The Global Times, which is directed at an overseas audience and is known for its strident anti-Western tone, said “a few people drew attention to themselves through ‘performance art'”.

“But their push for a ‘revolution’ will falter, as the public is opposed to it,” it said.

“These people, however, are like beggars in the streets — they never fade away while the rest of the country moves forward,” it added, taking a swipe at a tiny activist community that China vilifies as a threat to social stability.

Potential tinder box
However, the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily — which is directed at a domestic audience — took a more measured tone, acknowledging China faces a potential tinder box of social concerns linked to its growing pains.

These include public displeasure over inflation, land disputes, a widening wealth gap, and rampant official corruption — concerns similar to those that sparked the troubles in the Arab world.

“Many believe that China will emerge from its period of social transformation in a steady and peaceful manner,” an editorial said.

“But … it is not totally unfeasible that the nation could fall into social turmoil should its public governance fail.”

The editorial went on to chastise unspecified domestic critics for not rowing together with the government.

“Some argue that their mission is to criticise. Such a perspective is one-sided, and even becomes an excuse for irresponsible elements,” it said.

A domino effect of political upheaval that began in Tunisia has spread across the Middle East and North Africa, toppling presidents in Tunisia and Egypt and sparking unrest in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. — Sapa-AFP