Message From Ground Zero in China

While suppression of dissents is not new to Communist China, the regime appears to be in the grip of paranoia in the wake of Jasmine Revolution. This is clear from the way human rights activist Teng Biao is being held incommunicado for over three weeks. Dissenters disappearing without a trace are not a new phenomenon in China but the present crack down comes after a long period of relative tolerance.

As Edward Wong’s despatch from Beijing says in the New York Times, Teng Biao is no stranger to the wrath of the Chinese authorities. He belongs to the small but daring tribe (about 170,000 in all) of campaigners for human rights and the rule of law in a country where what matters is the CPC and CPC alone and its aging leadership. He has been repeatedly detained, beaten and threatened with death, but it is for the first that that the security establishment has been holding him for no reason, with no authority and no news about him to the family.

China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) has come up with an interesting expression for the present spate of detention across the country. And it is ‘soft detention’ when a person is held at his or her home. Soft or harsh, the victims are denied contact with the outside world and this raises the spectre of several, if not hundreds, Guantanamo Bays sprouting up from Sichuan to Shandong and Shanghai.

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Chen Guangcheng

Already advocacy groups have documented scores of detentions. Amongst the notable victims are Liu Shihui and Tang Jinglin from Guangzhou, Li Tiantian from Shanghai, Gu Chuan, from Beijing, and a blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng in rural Shandong Province.

Observers have attributed these arrests to the meeting of the National People’s Congress and Consultative Legislature which opened on March 5. But a more plausible reason is the growing concern over social stability in the country in the wake of galloping inflation, industrial unrest, over heated real estate market that is posing a serious threat to the economy and above all the new fervor for freedoms in ‘closed’ societies which are hitherto considered as unfit for democracy. Otherwise the security establishment would not have clamped down on foreign journalists and the Internet ‘in the strictest such action in recent memory’, as a media despatch put it.

The editorials appearing in People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party are a give away to the fears over political convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa. “A number of people with ulterior motives, both inside and outside China, are conspiring to divert the troubled waters (of Middle East) toward China. They have used the Internet to fan the flames, hoping to whip up ‘street politics’ in China and thereby sow chaos in China,” said a recent editorial comment.

Officially China’s stand on Middle East is that the local unrest should be resolved locally, without any ‘outside’ intervention or help of any kind. That is why it has not gone along with plans of the West, particularly in the context of Libya where there is a talk of imposing a ‘no fly zone’. Apart from ideological factors, Beijing is guided by its own vested interest in the region. Over the past several years, it has cultivated the regimes as a part of its economic and strategic hegemony. So, status quo is what suits China. Ditto at home too.

Just as there is a Jasmine dynamism in Middle East / Northern Africa, there is a Deng Xiaoping dynamism in China. And the momentum generated by these two dynamisms is unstoppable.

China knows this better than any body else. The protests that are regularly witnessed despite the crackdowns are a testimony to the long onward march of the country from the days of Chairman Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution.

Well, the reforms, more specifically the Four Modernizations spelt out by Deng’s reforms did not come over night. They took their time. And have reached a stage of no return what with the penchant for private property and respect for millionaires under what is proclaimed as the Socialist Economy with Chinese characteristics.

The message is loud and clear for Teng Biaos, Li Tiantians and Chen Guangchengs. Any doubt?

(This commentary first appeared on the website of Poreg, an independent think tank.