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Multiple Protests Test Beijing

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By William Tucker

This past weekend three more Buddhist monks set themselves ablaze in Seda county of Sichuan province. These most recent self immolations bring the number to 19 since the protests began back in March of 2011. Each immolation prompted an immediate large scale protest resulting in the Chinese People’s Armed Police firing into the crowd. Independent reports are difficult to verify at this time as the government has severed all lines of electronic communication. Although Chinese state run media often reports that a “disturbance” has occurred, it is the dissident networks that tend to fill in the details. As such, we cannot always take every account at face value. In this case, however, some video of the event has leaked out.

As if a Buddhist uprising wasn’t enough, Beijing is also trying to deal with protests from ethnic Han Chinese against local government corruption. Protests in Wukan and Wanggang erupted when local officials seized property, the protesters claim, to support deals with organized crime. In Wukan, the protesters managed to get the local Communist Party secretary removed after demonstrating for four months resulting in the protest leading taking his place. Protests in Wanggang have cited the Wukan example and hope to replicate the results. This puts Beijing in a difficult position. The CPC can follow through with reforms similar to those implemented in Wukan and run the risk of other villages protesting to gain the same results, or they can crack down on the protests which would likely result in blowback. Either way, a comprehensive solution from Beijing is not likely to be forthcoming.

The spontaneity with which these protests occur, both among the Buddhists and the Han, show that discontent with the government is simmering just below the surface. Last year when the protests in the Arab world began some Chinese dissidents tried organizing a “Jasmin Revolution,” but to no avail. Most Chinese know that advertising a demonstration will result in the police gathering en mass to disrupt the event before it begins. Instead, it is smaller acts carried out by an individual, or a very small group, that incites a village to demonstrate against the government. These protests are increasing in frequency and are occurring in a wide variety of areas. As Zhou Yongkang, the head of the Central Political and Legislative Committee, stated two months ago, China is simply unprepared to deal with mass unrest. China didn’t have a plan before these protests began and we can expect Beijing to scramble just to keep up. Unfortunately for the protesters this is likely to have violent results.

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