Chinese official dismisses "Jasmine" protest calls

Beijing gets jittery about any signs of organised opposition to ruling Party.

Last Updated: Feb 24, 2011, 10:07 AM IST

Beijing: China faces no risk of succumbing to the kind of unrest that has rocked authoritarian governments across the Middle East, a senior Chinese official said, dismissing "Jasmine Revolution" calls as "absurd”.

The comments from Zhao Qizheng, a former head of the Chinese government`s information office, were Beijing`s most senior response so far to online messages urging protests in Chinese cities. The call drew small numbers of people at the weekend overwhelmed by swarms of police.

"There won`t be any Jasmine Revolution in China," Zhao said, according to a report on Thursday in the Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong-based newspaper under mainland Chinese control.

Protesters in Tunisia forced out long-time president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January in what supporters called a "Jasmine Revolution”.

"The idea that a Jasmine Revolution could happen in China is extremely preposterous and unrealistic," Zhao told a group of reporters on Wednesday, said the paper.

Zhao now heads the foreign affairs committee of the Chinese People`s Political Consultative Conference, a body that advises the government but does not have any legislative powers.

Even fierce critics of China`s ruling Communist Party have said that for now the government faces scant risk of the kinds of uprisings that unseated Egypt`s long-time President Hosni Mubarak and are now besieging Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

China`s rapid economic growth has diluted discontent about corruption and inequality. It has also enabled sharply higher funding for domestic security forces, arming them with sophisticated surveillance equipment and intimidating hardware.

But Beijing gets jittery about any signs of organised opposition to the Party, and security officials have recently detained several activists critical of the government, including lawyers Teng Biao and Tang Jitian.

The initial call for "Jasmine" protest gatherings in 13 Chinese cities last weekend appeared on a US-based Chinese-language website, Boxun, and the site has issued a letter urging such gatherings every weekend.

Zhao said the calls would get nowhere, but he made dark warnings about the instigators, whose identity is unclear.

"In a city of 15 million people, to have a few people standing around has no practical significance," said Zhao, apparently referring to Beijing.

"But we`re also sure that there are a few people who hope that some kind of turmoil will break out in China."

Relatively few Chinese people are aware of the online calls for protests, which have circulated mostly on overseas websites blocked by the mainland government.

The Chinese words for "jasmine" and "jasmine revolution" have been blocked in searches of popular Chinese websites.

Bureau Report