By Claude Arpi
“The year 2008 was an extraordinary one in the history of the People’s Republic of China. In that year China overcame a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province; successfully hosted the 29th Olympic Games and Paralympics in Beijing; and greeted the 30th anniversary of the adoption of reform and opening-up policies”. Thus starts the new white paper on defence published by Beijing a few days before the Chinese New Year (January 26).
One question immediately comes to mind: will the Ox be for Beijing as auspicious as the Rat? Nobody contests that the Olympics were a resounding success; Beijing however forgot to mention some darker aspects of the Rat Year. One of these was the widespread unrest in Tibet, which lasted nearly two months and resulted in some 200 casualties.
As for the earthquake in Sichuan, the authorities did do some remarkable work, but the disaster was partially man-made. Fan Xiao, a chief engineer at the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, recently stated that the weight of Zipingpu reservoir (315 million tonnes) probably triggered the quake. The 156-meter-high Zipingpu dam is located 500 metres from the fault line and 5.5 kilometres from the quake epicentre.
The Ox year too will be a special year of celebrations, if not of commemorations.
Thirty years ago, on February 17, 1979, Beijing decided to ‘teach a lesson’ to its Vietnamese brothers. It ended in a fiasco for the Chinese. Another historic date is March 10, 1959, when the entire Tibetan population in Lhasa rose against the Chinese invaders. A week later the Dalai Lama left his palace at night to take refuge in India. Since then, he has been a refugee in India.
And then there is the 20th anniversary of martial law in Tibet (March 8, 1989); three months later, China witnessed its student revolution, which ended tragically on Tiananmen Square on June 4. Three thousands students are said to have lost their lives. Of course, there will be no official commemoration for these events.
But on October 1, the People’s Republic of China will celebrate in a grandiose way the 60th year of its foundation.
Mao Zedong told millions of Chinese assembled at the same Tiananmen Square: “China has risen”.
However, all is not rosy in the Middle Kingdom and the Ox year may be one of the most difficult. Some problems may be linked to the ‘celebrations’. Chinese (and Tibetans as well) are fond of commemorations; many important events in the modern history China have been triggered by ‘memorials’ and this year’s long list worries the leadership in Beijing immensely.
Another source of unrest is the impact of the financial crisis. The China Brief of Jamestown Foundation reported: “For the past month or so, cadres in two topmost organs in charge of internal security — the Central Commission on Political and Legal Affairs (CCPLA) and its sister unit, the Central Office for the Comprehensive Administration of Law and Order (COCALO) have held marathon sessions on how to nip socio-political instability in the bud.” It is the ‘overriding task’ of the COCALO, which coordinates the activities of the police, state security and judicial departments.
According to Chen Jiping, the COCALO director: “2009 would witness an increase in social risks and the doubling of contradictions even as the law-andorder scenario becomes more severe and complex.” The economy is facing many difficulties. Anita Chang of Associated Press wrote: “The global economic crisis has taken hold deep in China’s impoverished countryside, as millions of rural migrants are laid off from factory jobs and left to scratch a living from tiny landholdings.” Beijing has warned of ‘possibly the toughest year’ of the decade and called for development of rural areas to offset the economic fallout.
All China watchers agree that if this situation continues for a long time, it could be a time bomb.
The worst affected is the toy industry.
Around Chinese New Year, the ministry of commerce announced that 922 toy exporters in Guangdong province closed shop in 2008, out of the 3,089 toy exporters in 2007. In 2001, Dongguan, the main toy manufacturing centre in Guangdong had up to 4,000 toy factories. Other sectors are also touched. One is particularly worrisome: the closure of small and medium scale enterprises (SME) that supply large state-owned enterprises (SOE) involved in construction. When this sector slows down, the privately owned SMEs are the first to pay the price. They employ millions of workers for whom there is no security net.
But as the white paper on defence admits, the jobless are not the only security threat: “China is still confronted with long-term, complicated, and diverse security threats and challenges.
Issues of existence, security and development security, traditional security threats and non-traditional security threats, and domestic security and international security are interwoven and interactive….Separatist forces working for ‘Taiwan independence’, ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibet independence’ pose threats to China’s unity and security.” Repression is the only known weapon to tackle this. A Tibetan website, Phayul.com reported the re-launch of the ‘strike hard’ campaign first introduced in the 1980s to fight crime and corruption, though it was mostly used to crack down on political dissent.
According to the official Tibet Daily, the authorities in Lhasa have detained 81 Tibetans under the scheme. Two detainees are said to have been caught with ‘reactionary music’ on their mobile phones.
Since then, the Public Security Bureau has raided several residential areas, hotels, restaurants, guesthouses, Internet cafes and bars in Lhasa. Nearly 6,000 Tibetans have been arrested since mid-January. It does not augur well for the forthcoming ‘commemorations’ of the Ox year.
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