Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Social Unrest & The 60th Anniversary of the PRC


With four weeks to go until China’s 60th birthday party many of us Middle Kingdom watchers are wondering if China is splitting at its seams prior to its 60th anniversary party?

Looking back to last March when a group of Tibetans rose up and torched Lhasa, laying waste to shops and killing innocent Chinese migrants from eastern China. The government’s response was mass jailings, close the province to outside observers and deal with this “splitist’” problem under a veil of secrecy.

Just this past July a Uygur led protest in Urumqi saw over a thousand protesters ransack businesses and, yet again, kill innocent Chinese migrants from eastern China. The government’s response, although there were large numbers tossed in jails, was much more open as international observers rushed on to the scene authorities seemed to give them an unusually free hand to report. Had anything changed in the year between the protests to change the government’s response? No. In fact, change is the wrong vocabulary all together.

After two massive riots, in which majority Han Chinese migrants were killed, in regions that cover almost 1/3 of China’s physical territory, one might think that a change regarding race relations or minority rights would be in order for government officials in Beijing. But alas, all that seems to be on anyone’s mind is “social stability” ahead of the 60th Anniversary of the PRC.

While China rushes to short-term fixes: the virtual marshal law in Xinjiang and Tibet as well as blocking social networking sites, the government refuses to admit that they have a problem brewing. And with a deaf ear on problems “out west”, preparations are full steam ahead for a momentous military parade, a full-length feature film (on the founding of the PRC) and Olympic style security is already in full swing for the October 1st celebrations.

What might one expect in the run up to the October 1st anniversary? Forget about Facebook, Youtube and Twitter; they cease to exist. Visas will be near impossible to obtain in September and residents of Beijing will be subject to document checks, police registration and restrictions on movement that were synonymous with the Olympics last August. And it won’t stop there.

Xinjiang has seen a complete Internet blackout. Hotels, residences and even universities have had their access cut; mobile phone text messages have also been blocked in an effort to keep groups from organizing and causing any resemblance of social unrest. The region has been thrown back in to the dark ages in order to celebrate sixty years of progress; that just smacks of irony.

But it is important that you don’t walk away from this editorial thinking that China just has a problem with its minority peoples. In fact, problems run much deeper than that, and as China turns sixty it is not taking any chances with issues like freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of information. Human rights doesn’t seem to be an area of tolerance either as painfully indicated by the arrest of a human rights lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, on trumped up tax evasion charges for which he is likely to receive a seven year jail term.

Will there be an easing of government pressure after the October 1st holiday passes? Most likely yes. But after watching Iran implode after elections in summer, and more importantly how Iranians organized themselves online, the Chinese government is more fearful of technology now than it ever has been. The bottom line is that instead of much needed political and legal reforms, what we’ll see from the Chinese government after the anniversary is more of the same; which will in turn lead to more frustration and alienation. And so the vicious circle continues.

Ryan Pyle
Website: www.ryanpyle.com
Archive: http://archive.ryanpyle.com

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