“Turmoil in Libya worsens as West launches attack” is Xinhua’s headline in the wake of the French, American and British air strikes to enforce the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone in Libya. Its reports play up the civilian casualties announced by the Libyan government and accredited a variety of self-serving motives to the leaders of each Western country involved. China, along with Russia, did not veto the resolution when it was before the U.N. Security Council, but abstained from voting and it would have been aware of the consequences of that. Nonetheless, the foreign ministry issued a statement today expressing its regret over the military strikes and saying it did not “agree with resorting to force in international relations”.
While China also has its own business interests in Libya, Beijing has a fine diplomatic line to walk. As it starts to take a greater role on the global stage, it has to balance maintaining its position as an alternative to the West with not being seen as a backer of dictators that massacre their own people. Even more important, this Bystander believes, is how the perception of the Libyan crisis as a proxy for the wider dissent against authoritarian regimes being seen across the Arab world is managed domestically. We expect to see state media repeatedly connect the dots between dissent and turmoil.
Here is the algorithm of dissent, as elucidated by the People’ Daily: dissent leads to chaos; chaos spells disaster for all the gains of economic development; one million Libyans are now in need of humanitarian assistance; ultimately it is the ordinary people who suffer hardship. So don’t become a Jasmine tea party. As state media tells us, “The Chinese people know only too well that the precondition of living a good life is national stability and social harmony.” So now you know, too.
There is something faintly comical about centrally-planned protests, not that China treats dissent with anything but deadly earnest.
Nonetheless, demonstrations will be permitted in three parks in Beijing during the Olympic games, says Liu Shaowu, director of the organizing committee’s security department.
The Guardian calls the designated spots in Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan parks “protest pens”. Would-be demonstrators will be required to apply for permission from the city’s government and police, the BBC reports, although the mechanism for applying seems hazy.
Previous Olympic cities have had designated protest areas but how willingly China, where anti-government protests legal but rare, has followed suit is a moot point given the pre-Games crackdown on dissent. What Beijing can embrace is the International Olympic Committee’s ban on demonstrations or “political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues.
No sign of dissent is being allowed ahead of the Olympics.
The FT reports that even the parents of children killed in schools that collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake are being muzzled. Cash payments are being made to parents to drop demands for an investigation. Soldiers are patrolling the tent cities that have sprung up to house the homeless in order to dampen any signs of social unrest.
Meanwhile, a group of Chinese human rights lawyers was detained and later put under house arrest by security officials to stop them attending a dinner hosted by two members of the U.S. Congress, the Washington Post reports.
The move fits a pattern whereby known dissidents and human rights activists have been increasingly restricted in recent months, and prevented from expressing their views or from coming to Beijing if they live in other cities.