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Recent China research
|China Weekly: A China case study: Bottled water adds to food safety problems, 14 May 2013|
|China Weekly: China’s White Goods: Survival of the biggest, 9 May 2013|
|China’s grain seeds sector gets a boost but openings for foreign companies will be limited, Fergus Naughton, 9 May 2013|
|China Report Update: Food safety, 8 May 2013|
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Recent blog posts
China’s food safety – and the trust deficit,
7 May 2013
Rising confrontations and the China Dream,
2 May 2013
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10 Apr 2013
Xi and his dream,
4 Apr 2013
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China’s carrot and stick handling of protests
There is a pervasive perception that as soon as the Chinese authorities encounter dissent, they send in the riot police. The repression of any organized political opposition is certainly a constant theme in the way the People’s Republic operates, stretching to human rights lawyers who have come in for especially harsh treatment. But when it comes to “social protests”, the picture is much more nuanced.
Different reactions. In my last blog posting, I wrote about the way in which recent demonstrations in Guangdong have been quelled by riot police despite the vaunting of the conciliatory “Wukan model” set by the province’s Communist Party Secretary Wang Yang. But now the outcome of a confrontation in Sichuan, which I referred to in that last posting, has shown that force is not always the sole answer.
This is in keeping with a survey Trusted Sources did a couple of years ago. It showed that in a sample of protests we examined, there was often a conciliatory outcome once the cases were brought to the attention of the provincial or central government. Local officials often reacted initially by sending in the riot police; but if the protestors held on or got through to them, higher authorities offered a settlement or the local officials stepped back in the eternal search for social stability.
Violent clashes. The case in Sichuan involved a plan to build a heavy-metal processing plant in the city of Shifang. This provoked three days of street protests by tens of thousands of residents, who clashed with police wielding batons and firing tear gas and stun grenades. Last night, demonstrators massed outside the city government headquarters demanding the release of arrested protestors. The crowd swelled despite a warning from the local authorities that protesters would be “severely punished” as the security forces increased to several thousand.
Officials announced today the scrapping of the plan for the molybdenum-copper alloy plant because of the residents’ worries about its environmental impact and health dangers, the city’s Party Secretary chief Li Chengjin announced. He acknowledged that there had been insufficient public information about the Rmb10.4 billion plant (US£1.6 billion) planned by the Sichuan Hongda company of Chengdu. The plant had been included in projects to rebuild the area of Sichuan hit by the 2008 earthquake and was approved by the environment ministry in March.
Environmental concerns. But concern about heavy-metal deposits has risen in several parts of China as blood poisoning levels have increased. As in the case of petrochemical plants and incinerators in regions from Dalian to Xiamen and Guangdong and Hainan Island, the authorities have shown responsiveness to environmental concerns by local residents when they mobilize in sufficient numbers and attract media attention. The broader question is whether the success of such protests will lead to greater mobilization on other issues, taking on a political aspect that would present a more formidable challenge to the system.