The American Kafir

2011/02/23

New Tactics to Push Political Reforms in China

Filed under: China, Protests — Tags: — - @ 5:27 pm

Source Link: Stratfor

New Tactics to Push Political Reforms in China
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
Police keep watch along Wanfujing Avenue in Beijing after protesters gathered Feb. 20

Summary

The purported organizer or organizers of China’s “Jasmine” gatherings released a new message through Boxun.com on Feb. 22 calling for more gatherings in 18 Chinese cities Feb. 27. Though the message continued the call to end the single-party system, it seems to focus the anti-government movement’s strategy on challenging the Chinese conception of open discussions and gatherings. Their current strategy is likely aimed to make public gatherings more common and acceptable, creating an opening for dissident leaders in the future.

Analysis

North Carolina-based Chinese language website Boxun.com on Feb. 22 published a new message from the purported organizer or organizers of the “Jasmine” gatherings. The new message called for protests in 18 locations across China on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m., including in 5 cities excluded from the previous message, and changing, albeit minimally, two of the locations.

Though it was more or less an echo of calls for the Feb. 20 gatherings, this message used clever tactics to help organize the new gathering, revealing more about the group and its strategy. While the organizer or organizers remain unclear, their strategy is likely aimed at making public gatherings more common and acceptable, creating an opening for dissident leaders in the future.

In a creative approach to facilitate dissemination domestically, the message’s author(s) recommended that people use a common reference to Chinese government conferences as a code name while continuing to urge peaceful gathering — a novel tactic to withstand government censorship and crackdowns. The use of code names makes it difficult for censorship authorities to distinguish between an official government function and politically sensitive words, including “Tiananmen,” “June Four” and, now, “Egypt” and “Jasmine,” therefore making it easier to get the message to larger audiences. They directed people to use the word “Liang Hui” to replace the word “gathering.” (Liang Hui, or Two Committees, is a Chinese term commonly used in official discourse, which refers to the annual National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that take place every March.) The message specifically instructs people, when passing on the message, to say that the Liang Hui (gathering) will be held this week in a designated place. Chinese Internet activists often use implicit phrases to refer to those sensitive terms — for example, “May 35” instead of “June 4” to avoid censorship — while still being understandable to their audience. This is a clever ploy because it forces the government either to stop referring to its official assemblies with the accepted term, to adopt much more sweeping censorship techniques, or to simply allow the calls for gatherings to proliferate.

At the end of the letter, the organizer or organizers used the word “huaren,” rather than “zhongguoren,” to refer to Chinese people. In Chinese, huaren has broader reference, including mainland Chinese, as well as Chinese people in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and overseas (and in dialogue huaren often refers to the Chinese diaspora rather than mainland Chinese). In other words, the group is referring to all ethnic Chinese. This may imply that the gathering may have supporters from overseas who are willing to pass this message to potential local protesters. It also helps the gatherings to attract greater attention from the general public regardless of where they are held.

Notably, the choice of locations focuses on central business districts in various cities. While still calling for people to meet in central squares of various cities, the message specifies locations that would be costly for the government to shut down. In Beijing, for example, the government can shut down Tiananmen Square easily, and often does so during threats of unrest. The organizers are instead calling for a meeting on Wangfujing Avenue, a major shopping district, particularly for wealthy Chinese and foreigners, making it harder to clamp down without obstructing daily activity and, therefore, without attracting more attention to the protest.

Also notable is the protest organizers’ use of “Disciplines” — essentially a code of conduct — that stress the importance of passivity and mutual assistance if treated roughly by the police. So far the gatherings have not even involved chanting or signs, but rather standing and watching. The evolving strategy of the organizer(s) seems to be to encourage leaderless gatherings of anonymous people so as to carve out an open space for discussion. While some traditional “parlor” discussion occurs in China, open political discourse has been a rarity under the Communist Party of China (CPC). The hope is that the regular and peaceful gatherings will push Beijing to be more permissive of such activity. These protests could demonstrate the ability of groups of people to meet over various issues — creating new openings for dissident movements — with the hope that these meetings will evolve into something more substantial in the long run.

The leadership of this group is still very unclear. The messages may be coming from outside China because it is simply easier to communicate these messages from abroad while maintaining communication and networks inside China. The organizers’ intention appears to be that the openings these gatherings create will allow new local leaders to take over. Their use of terminology that circumvents censors allows the events to be discussed in the open. Moreover, that the gatherings receive foreign publicity in the media, and that locations chosen are popular among foreigners and thousands of bystanders, makes it more difficult for the police to crackdown on them. Instead, they have to carry out careful arrests to avoid violence or putting officers in a situation where they are prone to make mistakes, which could trigger further unrest.

The messages transmitted through Boxun continue to call for the end of the one-party system and the growth of press freedom and democracy, but the organizers seem to be focusing on an intermediate strategy. This appears to be an attempt to change perceptions of political gatherings, and the ability to communicate ideas within China, all while challenging censorship efforts. It could change CPC policy, though it could also lead the shutting down of communication systems or a crackdown on the protesters.

The turn-out and events on Feb. 27 will be something to watch, as will the government’s attempts at censorship as the real Liang Hui begins the first week of March. It is difficult to tell if this will actually create an opening for dissent or if the government will choose to suppress the gatherings, but the organizer(s) have certainly made the situation challenging for Beijing.

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