Mideastern repercussions in China

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Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is the world. A co-production of the BBC world service PRI and WGBH in Boston. No one thinks that china is going to become the next Tunisia, or Egypt or Bahrain, but Chinese authorities are taking no chances. More than one hundred activists were taken away by police, confined to their homes, or reported missing over this past weekend. The Chinese government is limiting media reports about unrest in the Middle East, and police dispersed small groups of people yesterday after an internet message tried to provoke what activists are calling a jasmine revolution in china. The World's Mary Kay Magistad is in Beijing.

Lisa Mulins: To what extent are activists there in China being inspired by what's going on in the Middle East?

Mary Kay Magistad: Well first of all it is a fairly small number of activists who showed up in the thirteen cities where protests have been called for. And secondly what they were calling for was jobs, housing, fairness, so they weren't calling for an overthrow of government. They were just calling for the government to do a better job. But I think it is safe to say that those who are already interested in issues like free speech and democracy, have been paying attention to what's been going on in the Middle East. They have been following it by going to proxies on the internet and a few of those people were among those who showed up at the scenes over the weekend.

Mullins: So somehow people are getting information despite the Chinese government's efforts at blocking anything that has to do with the Middle East. Exactly what's the government doing?

Magistad: Well, see you have to remember there are four hundred and fifty million people online right now. There are more than eight hundred million people in china who have mobile phones and through their mobile phones have some access to the internet. And in recent days leaders have discussed, "okay what do we do in the face of what we've seen that's happened in the Middle East". And we got a hint on what they feel they need to do in a speech that president Hu Jintao gave on Saturday where he said: "We need to really strengthen control of information on the internet, we need to regulate the virtual society the internet has given rise to, And we need to guide public opinion so that it goes in more "healthy directions""

Mullins: But how do they enforce that Mary Kay? That sounds like a major publicity slash propaganda campaign.

Magistad: Well there's already considerable control of the internet, and basically the word has just gone down, you know, tighten it even more. For instance something as simple as the word 'jasmine' in Chinese [Chinese word for jasmine] if you put it in in Chinese in an internet search engine over the past few days you get blocked, which is you know, sort of funny because jasmine tea is one of the more popular kinds of tea in China, but put that in and you'd get blocked as well. Phone calls get cut off when you start talking about sensitive subjects. Various things like that. Just the monitoring that's always there in the background has just become more vigilant.

Mullins: Mary Kay is not just the information that the government is trying to control there. Its also people and certain people in particular?

Magistad: Certainly the government is always concerned about dissidents and more recently about human rights lawyers who have been trying to use China's constitutions and its own laws to hold the government to account. In recent days several of these lawyers gather to try to figure out how to help a colleague of theirs Chi Kwan Chan who stood out for women who were forced into having late term abortions. He is being held under illegal house arrest. Several of those lawyers have been detained or put under house arrest, two of them are missing one is Jung Tien Jon. He was detained twice. First on Wednesday, he was beaten up released. He spoke about the fact that he was beaten up, was detained again on Saturday and hasn't been seen since.

Mullins: Does the Chinese government have reason to feel vulnerable, because unlike in some of the dictatorships or totalitarian regimes in the Middle East? The government has evolved more than some of the other countries that have been on the news. It has sporadically relaxed rules, not only giving more freedom to people but also to the press.

Magistad: Not only that but the Chinese government although it has problems with corruption although there are certainly areas where it falls down. Has a huge cadre of technocrats who are pretty competent and who do get basic services delivered to the population. And as I found when I was walking around on the streets a week ago asking people, have you heard about what's happening in Egypt and Tunisia what do you think? A lot of people said "you know, we're pretty happy with what we got here, maybe governments like Egypt should have paid attention to what our government does and help the poor people" and they did not seem like false comments that were given because I was a foreign correspondent, they seemed to be heartfelt sentiments. So it's kind of funny that members of the government and members of the party feel this insecurity about how much it has genuine support of the people and how much it can relax in the fact that it has delivered it stable

Mullins: Speaking to us from Beijing The World's Mary Kay Magistad, Thank you Mary Kay.

Magistad: Thank you Lisa.