Beijing Hardens Its Line

Given the revival of a Mao-style mass mobilization in the wake of discoveries of “underground terrorist cells” in Xinjiang and more signs of unrest in Tibet and neighboring provinces, it seems unlikely that the Chinese Communist Party leadership will consider flexible measures such as opening talks with the Dalai Lama.

The Ministry of Public Security said in a press conference in Beijing Thursday that it had foiled attempts by two “terrorist” groups to disrupt the Olympics by means that include blowing up installations and kidnapping tourists and athletes in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Some 45 suspects were detained and 109.5 kilos of explosives seized in operations in January and April. Ministry spokesman Wu Heping claimed that one of the groups was connected to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which has been listed by the United Nations as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, more protests were staged earlier this week in Tibetan communities in Yushu, southern Qinghai Province and in Xiahe, southern Gansu. A common theme of these demonstrations, organized by local lamas, was that Beijing authorities should let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet.

In his press conference, the ministry’s Wu hinted that the campaign against anti-Beijing, anti-Olympics and other destabilizing elements had been extended to the entire nation. “We are facing a real terrorist threat,” Wu said. “All walks of life and the public should maintain a high degree of vigilance.”

Wu gave no details on what ordinary Chinese should do. However, CCP commissars and propaganda specialists have launched a national “people’s warfare crusade” to thwart the supposed threats posed by “Tibetan and Xinjiang splittists” who are said to be in cahoots with “hostile anti-China elements overseas.”

Political and diplomatic sources in Beijing say cadres in charge of organization and propaganda over the past week have disseminated the leadership’s instructions about a “people’s warfare campaign against terrorism” during ideological indoctrination sessions in party and government departments as well as at factories, schools and other units.

Party members and ordinary citizens have been asked to report suspicious characters to the police and to raise their guard against “anti-China elements at home and abroad.”

At a national meeting on “the comprehensive rectification of social law and order” held earlier this week, Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang called on every citizen to stand firm against “destabilizing forces” in society. Zhou quoted President Hu Jintao’s recent dictum: “Maintaining stability is our unshirkable responsibility, our first responsibility.”

Zhou, a former security minister called upon the people to work closely with police to turn over suspects and thwart efforts to disrupt the Olympic Games. “We must establish a law and order prevention and control network based on the principle of joint defense by police and the people,” Zhou said.

Human Rights Watch China expert Nicholas Bequelin, however, has cast doubt on claims that there are concerted efforts by “terrorist” groups to target the Olympics. “Beijing has a long record of conflating dissidents, rights activists, and ordinary criminals with ‘terrorists’,” he said. Bequelin added that until the authorities could provide more detailed evidence on ETIM’s activities in Xinjiang, for example, there would be suspicions that the security ministry’s allegations were a form of political propaganda.

Other China analysts have expressed alarm over the fact that CCP authorities have been cracking down not only on “terrorists” but also on dissidents and vocal NGO organizations. Beijing has recently slapped a three-and-a-half year sentence on internationally-known dissident Hu Jia in addition to clamping down on several NGOs that are fighting for the rights of AIDS patients.

There is also evidence that the authorities have been stirring up nationalism – and xenophobia – so as to rally popular support around the “CCP leadership with comrade Hu Jintao as general secretary.” More than 250,000 Chinese have signed up on a web campaign organized by a popular portal to denounce the Western media’s alleged “distortion” of events in Tibet.

In a press conference on Wednesday, a spokesman of the CCP United Front Department disclosed that since 2002 CCP officials have held six rounds of talks with emissaries of the Dalai Lama. Given Beijing’s Mao-style mass mobilization against “state enemies,” however, the chances for the resumption of such talks are slim. This is despite the fact that several major Western leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy have indicated their intention to boycott the Olympics’ opening ceremony unless Beijing restarts a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.