To what extent will the anti-Japan protests backfire?

Note I didn’t ask if they would backfire, but when. Who will it backfire against? Against the CCP, I suspect. (No, not with revolution, but with increasingly brazen protests against the government.) Otherwise, they wouldn’t be acting so nervous.

China’s ruling Communist Party, backed by a sophisticated Internet filtering system, an army of cyber-cops, a vigilant public security apparatus and an extensive informant network, is quick to shut down the slightest hint of a political movement. Yet it has allowed Patriots’ Alliance and other anti-Japan groups to galvanize the nation, leading to an outpouring of rage that has brought tens of thousands of Chinese into the streets and has prompted attacks on Japanese companies, embassies and consulates.

Behind Beijing’s apparent acquiescence was a belief that it could harness public protests to serve its own aims, analysts say. But some China experts warn that party leaders are taking a risk: public resentment, once unleashed, can be difficult to contain.

“Once you mount the tiger, it’s hard to dismount,” said Nicholas Becquelin, Hong Kong-based research director with Human Rights in China. “They made use of the nationalism but found it a little more difficult to contain than they expected once its usefulness was over.”

A meeting between President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Saturday failed to produce a breakthrough in the monthlong tensions as Hu called on Japan to back up its words of remorse with action. But China is clamping down hard on potential demonstrators, blanketing likely protest sites with a large police presence and using media controls and its extensive security machine to quell unrest.

Most ominous of all, in the CCP’s eyes, is that technology made it incredibly easy for organizers to plan, man and coordinate nationwide demonstrations. That will make them step up censorship efforts, and that, too can contribute to a backlash against them.

This article references the recently released Rand report [PDF] on internal protests in China, which soared to 58,000 separate incidents in 2003 mainly fueled by wealth imbalance, corruption and an ineffective legal system. There is some real wisdom here, and I’d like to include a generous snip:

The ultimate risk of China’s new more permissive containment and management strategy is that security officials – for any number of reasons – may find themselves losing control of a major demonstration, which then grows and spreads. Were that to happen, the Chinese government would find itself once again in the situation it faced at the height of the Cultural Revolution or in the Spring of 1989 – forced to choose between employing far greater violence to restore order, or engage in a renegotiation of power with society and the protestors. In the past, this difficult choice has always resulted in a serious split among the Party leadership over how best to restore control….

…China has taken a much riskier step beyond its emerging protest strategy of permissive containment and management” by attempting to tacitly “stage manage” angry young nationalist protestors. The leadership clearly hopes to ride this wave,buttress its popular nationalist credentials, and mobilize this popular anger as a diplomatic tool in its dealings with Japan over issues such as textbooks, Security Council membership, and security cooperation with the US to protect Taiwan. China can now claim – probably correctly – that its people would not stand for significant concessions on these issues.

But Beijing has chosen to run major risks that could end up creating serious challenges for its domestic stability and its foreign policy. By aligning itself tacitly with the protestors (notwithstanding its public calls for restraint), it risks having its policies
boxed-in or manipulated by protestor demands. Many in Japan and other countries now clearly feel that, by treating these demonstrations more permissively than it does most demonstrations, Beijing has to some extent assumed responsibility for damage caused by the protestors. Moreover, whereas the Belgrade bombing was in many ways a one-time event in which popular anger was likely to cool later, China’s disagreements with Japan have both a longer history and an indefinite future. Beijing has also legitimized protests led by a network of anti-Japanese groups that exist in the gray area of China’s emerging “civil society”, and which are not as tightly controlled by the state. As a result, China will have to decide whether or not to authorize similar demonstrations again and again in
the future – and press sources yesterday reported that these same groups plan to march again tomorrow. Perhaps worse, if Beijing finds it must use coercion to limit the protestors, it risks putting its security forces in the dangerous position of being seen as the “protectors” of the “unrepentant Japanese” – a very dangerous situation for a government that has staked its claims to legitimacy on nationalism and economic growth.

Is the government playing with dynamite, or does it have a way to control the masses and channel the aggression it helps foment in a manner that suits its purposes? Maybe we’ll know the next time there’s a major spark of social unrest.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

Apparently the anger is still raging on. One of my Korean friends posted a video link to my blog last night from a S. Korean news source that shows a Chinese mob attacking a woman because she was driving a Japanese car.

I’d say this is far from over.

April 25, 2005 @ 6:29 pm | Comment

Methinks you may be overreacting a little to that article, Richard. I read through it and found the tone reasonable. The last two paragraphs:

“Lu said his group had been careful about posting inflammatory or illegal messages. He said he had not been visited by or received calls from security forces. He said it was his idea to post a warning on the website against illegal protests.

“So far, I think the Chinese government has managed things pretty well,” Lu said. “They’ve allowed people to vent their anger while protecting the demonstrators, keeping order and safeguarding property.””

Sounds reasonable to me.

Now, I certainly don’t want to minimise the excesses of some of the demonstrators, nor do I want to minimise the likelihood of a crackdown, but the tone of today’s posts here, Richard, just don’t gel with the news I’m reading or what I’m seeing on the streets.

What I’m seeing is this: Nothing. Or very close to it. Sure, I’m in Beijing, but I see plenty of people driving Japanese cars unmolested. I see plenty of Japanese goods for sale, and undamaged. My fiancee was very angry a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to join the boycott. I have no argument with her attitudes at all. But things have subsided for now, and I don’t mean only that her feelings have subsided, I mean that I’m seeing very, very little in the way of anti-Japan anything.

Sure, it could all backfire on the government very quickly and very easily. There is no shortage of pent up rage here. But I see most people getting on with their lives, and I suspect that, barring the odd minor hiccup, that’s the way things are likely to continue.

Certain anti-Japan extremists or ‘anti-social elements’ using the protests as an excuse may well try something, but the Party is very, very efficient when it wants to be. And I would say that the people wanting to ‘protest’ are a very small minority at this stage.

Yes, I hate nationalism, too, and these nationalists scare the living shit out of me. But I don’t think the threat has built up any kind of critical mass, yet. Not even close. I’m concerned, yes, but quite confident about the near future, at least.

April 25, 2005 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

The real point is that the CPC is not united on this issue. Hu and others favour a soft line on Japan in order to woo it to China’s side over the long term. Jiang and his cronies favour putting history before anything else. Little wonder there has been so much confusion and mismanagment of the protests.

April 25, 2005 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

You might be right Chris. There was the guy you quote who said he was taking the moderate approach. But it was the reporter himself who expressed the concerns over a potential backlash.

April 25, 2005 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

My favorite bit from that article: talking about the Chinese factory workers in a Japanese owned factory – first they wanted to protest against Japan. And right after that, they wanted to form an independent union.

April 25, 2005 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

You got the whole story. Unlike young college students, most of people, especially those under the heavy pressure of feeding their family and developing their careers, are moderate, although they may have tendency to not like Japan. That’s why watching TV and reading newspaper sometimes do not help, or even distort the truth. You live with them, you know them.
By the way, you will not see any more demonstrations against Japan unless sth else happens in the near future. CCP closed several most popular anti-Japan websites and arrested several people. CCP got a very efficient strategy on the control. A fine line is that: “Whatever you do, don’t form a strong organization; otherwise you will be cracked down at some point for sure.”

April 25, 2005 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

Therer are supposed to be new demonstrations in Xiamen this weekend. We’ll see.

April 25, 2005 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

Dear All,

This is written more in sorrow than in anger (though I am a little angry still nevertheless) and as further proof of the fact that “The quality of mercy is not strained/It cometh as the gentle dew from heaven…” – as that sweet young lady once said, I’m sure with me in mind. I’m becoming adept at turning the other cheek, whether of the upper or the lower anatomy must remain a matter for fascinating conjecture at the moment, but all careful readers of Plato will know that all phenomena of the ideal upper world have their imperfect (indeed, sometimes odiferous) counterparts in the world below.

After that portentous introduction I shall proceed to sordid facts. I have recently made a number of contributions to Richard’s Peking Duck site, to the April 21st thread, titled “More on the riots – and a must read.” Some of you, I know, have been following the debate that I entered into with Richard regarding both the nature of Chinese village elections and later, the SARS issue.

My final defence on the SARS issue, in which I outlined my three basic arguments in what turned out to be, I must confess, a rather lengthy series of comments, was to meet Richard’s challenge to either “put up, or shut up.” Naturally, I had chosen the former!

What deeply disturbs me, and this is the reason why I am writing to you all, is that Richard has violated standard blogger ethics by seriously distorting my views, and in such a way as to mock me, to trivialise me, and in an effort, it would appear, to damage my credibility as a person of any intellect.

If this wasn’t upsetting enough, he has also closed the thread in order to prevent me from responding to his outrageous diatribe. By doing so, he has effectively defamed me to some degree. This in fact not only violates blogger ethics, but also, arguably, U.S. law. I shall return to this point later, but first allow me to explain to you the details of how Richard has offended my ethical sensibilities.

I shall not outline here what my arguments are regarding the SARS issue. If you are interested enough, you can open the pages of Peking Duck and read them for yourselves. I will focus instead on Richard’s last commentary, which also happens to be the final word allowed on the thread.

I’m not sure how old Richard is, or of what level of English language comprehension he possesses, but one thing for sure is that he has very clearly misrepresented my entire argument, and in such a way as to call into question my very sanity. Just read his opening line: “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he writes, “step right up and see Mark Anthony Jones in action! Look at how he proves SARS was a hoax – by quoting one Dr. Rath who insists it was a non-issue that could be treated with vitamin C and the amino acid lysine.”

I must say that I was extremely shocked when I read this nonsense this morning. How could somebody completely distort my views in such a ridiculous and obvious way? Either Richard’s reading comprehension is very poor, as I surmised earlier, or he is behaving in a manner that is just plain malicious.

At no time have I ever used Dr Rath to support any of my views, on any topic. Never. I have never quoted Dr. Rath’s views to support a position of my own. In fact, I made it very clear that I do not support Dr Rath’s views. “Do not assume that I agree or endorse Rath’s argument,” I wrote, “because it sounds a little too over the top to me.”

Furthermore, it must be said here that I did not even refer to Dr Rath when presenting my arguments about the SARS issue. I mentioned him, in a completely separate commentary, in order only to provide an example of someone who has argued a link between SARS and the war on terrorism. I did so in response to a question by Pete. At no time, as I made very clear to both Richard and Pete, have I ever even argued a link between the war on terrorism and the outbreak of SARS. All that I ever said was that the timing of the SARS crisis is “suspicious.” Nothing more. My statements ought to be viewed carefully, and in their context.

Richard attacks my intellectual integrity when he says to me: “All of the statistics you quote from Dr. Rath are a testament to how you operate, going on at lengths utterly horrifying to contemplate, full of sound and fury and ultimately signifying far less than nothing.”

Once again, I have never quoted any statistics from Dr Rath to support arguments of my own, or arguments that I in any way endorse. Never!

It was Richard who sparked this debate, by taking a short simple statement that I made about SARS out of context. In doing so, he challenged me to either “put up or shut up.” I thus went to considerable lengths in terms of both time and effort to carefully outline my position on this issue for him. I used only credible, empirically verifiable evidence to support all of my arguments – but instead of addressing my actual arguments, instead of challenging my evidence with credible evidence of his own, Richard, once again, as usual, has chosen instead to trivialise me, to mock me, to misrepresent and totally distort my views, and in ways that simply defy belief. And in a rather un-gentlemanly manner, even closes the thread after making his last comment, thereby preventing me from launching into a defence.

This brings me back to the question of blogger ethics, and the law. Just because Richard pays for and runs Peking Duck does not give him the right to defame those who contribute to his site. I have a basic, fundamental right to uphold and to protect my reputation. I don’t expect, when I contribute to blog sites, that the host will seriously distort and misrepresent my views on an issue while preventing me from making a rebuttal. In my opinion, this amounts to defamatory behaviour on Richard’s part.

I did, rather briefly and perhaps childishly, entertain the possibility of pursuing legal action, having contacted Blake, Dawson and Waldron for their professional advice, though now that I have calmed down a little, I can see that any such action on my part will be most unlikely, and no doubt best avoided. The costs involved would no doubt far outweigh the risks of me not succeeding, and at any rate, I don’t wish to brew too much of a storm in what many will consider to be merely a teacup.

I am well aware too, of the fact that the boundaries of permissible public discourse have evolved significantly over the last half-century, and that previous such court rulings in the United States, such as in the case of Stephen Barrett verses Hulda Clark et al for example, have resulted in failure. In the case just mentioned, the judge argued that the Internet provides for a “three-wheeling and highly animated exchange” of ideas, and that you don’t want to hold ordinary people, who are engaged in such discussions as the type common to the pages of Peking Duck, to “the same standards or restrictions that you would hold a sophisticated publishing house or a newspaper.”

Faced with this reality, and the present ambiguities of the law on this issue, my only recourse of defence in this instance rests in writing this letter, and in being able to distribute it to you all. I do so in the hope that all interested parties who have been following the debate in question will come to judge me in a light more favourable than the one that Richard has so unkindly portrayed, and that you will use your sober senses to evaluate the strengths and the weaknesses of my arguments. It is my wish that anybody who opens the thread in question will not simply scroll down to the last comment, and be left, having read it, with the defamatory and scandalous portrait that Richard has painted of me.

Finally, I thank all of those among you who have been good enough to engage with in debate since I fist began contributing to the pages of Peking Duck, last November. Regretfully, I shall not be contributing any longer.

Best wishes to you all,

Mark Anthony Jones

April 26, 2005 @ 12:59 am | Comment

Mark, I think a lot of what you say is valid. I just think you overstate your case at times, and that undercuts your argument. I think for example that your whole “fear of SARS” = “Western Fear of China’s Rise” is a great thesis for an essay. But you lose me when you extend that metaphor too literally. When I hear “Trilateral Commission,” I reach for my metaphoric revolver, as it were, and referring to deaths from SARS as “wheezing difficulties”- well, that’s like calling getting laid off “downsizing” or what have you.

I hope you don’t stop writing, I hope you continue to post here, and if not, I hope you start your own blog so you can state your case and add to the debate.


April 26, 2005 @ 1:20 am | Comment

Dear other Lisa,

Thank you for your constructive criticisms, though I would like to point out that I did not describe SARS deaths as “Wheezing difficultles” – I was describing SARS symptoms.

I am sorry for taking so long to reply, but Richard appears to have banned me from making any further comments on this website. Every time i try to post, I am blocked, and told that I “am banned”.

I thus had to post this by using a different computer, in the ajoining office to mine.

I suspect that Richard will probably delete all of my comments of today as soon as he discovers them, and I should respect his blackbanning of me.

I shall thus refrain from posting any further comments. As I said in my letter above, I do not intend to make any further contributions, given what I consider to be unreasonable behaviour on Richard’s part.

Thanks again Other Lisa, for all of your constructive criticisms and comments – I really do appreciate them.

Best regards, adieu!

Mark Anthony Jones

April 26, 2005 @ 1:46 am | Comment

Richard, the goverment in Shanghai is disseminating ‘announcement’ in urgent manner today. It’s dissuading people from any further demonstrations. The official line now even gives a red light on boycott-Japanese-goods campaign, citing the possibility of harming both economies (liang3 bai4 ju4 shang1).

April 26, 2005 @ 5:46 am | Comment

As I wrote in another thread Mark spammed:

Mark, your comments are there untouched for all to see. I responded in a maner I thought was fair. I have told you before that if you want a soapbox, start your own blog. This is my soapbox. I try to be open minded, to let Bingfeng and Bellevue and FSN9 and JR — people of tremendously diverse opinions — to have their say. When you try to take over and spam my comments with encyclopedia-length diatribes it’s bad enough, and I have previously asked you to refrain from doing so. When these diatribes are truly offensive – such as when you say the Iraqi insiurgency, despite being feared by the majority of the population it so cavalierly butchers, must win over the Americans, I don’t have to tolerate it. When you seek to prove SARS wasn’t a threat and that the CCP was okay in how it handled it, I don’t have to accept it. Period. You want to complain or express these views, do it elsewhere. I don’t have to give you bandwidth or space I pay for to spread messages I find offensive and contrary to logic and decency. Thanks. And if you keep on abusing my comments, I will delete, which I haven’t done yet.

April 26, 2005 @ 8:20 am | Comment

To Chris:

“I see plenty of people driving Japanese cars unmolested. I see plenty of Japanese goods for sale, and undamaged. My fiancee was very angry a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to join the boycott. I have no argument with her attitudes at all. But things have subsided for now”

Please try, just try, to catch a glimpse of the big picture…please?

Anti-Japanese sentiment is pretty much here to stay. After all, it’s been around for quite some time.

However, despite the fact that (as Chris has kindly pointed out to us all) Beijing drivers are riding around unmolested in their Japanese cars, anti-Jap feelings have clearly gone up a notch, caused largely by the govt and their desire to misinform and manipulate for their own ends.

This is significant.

By the way, I’m starting to really hate sentences which start with “My finance/girlfriend……was, thinks, says..etc..etc.” Really hate.

April 26, 2005 @ 12:12 pm | Comment

Richard the uklad in China, I am looking at the big picture, I am concerned about anti-Japanese sentiment, rising nationalism, and the potential for things to spiral out of control. I don’t see any reason to pack my bags and flee just yet, though. It would seem to me that we’ve been through a ‘rough patch’ and that things will gradually return to normal.

And I’m terribly sorry for using someone close to me as an example, but she is honestly the only Chinese person I have talked to about this issue. And that’s not for a lack of contact with other Chinese, either. This issue certainly is worthy of analysis and discussion, but I don’t think it’s as big as some people seem to think.

I do think the western press is blowing things out of proportion. I do think that most people have lives to get on with. That is the big picture I can see from my little corner of Beijing.

April 26, 2005 @ 8:25 pm | Comment

Chris, I agree with you. No reason to run away from China. But I do think the events of the past couple of weeks could ultimately embolden protestors whose gripe is with the CCP as opposed to the Japanese.

Yes, most people in China just want to live there lives and eat and sleep and get on with it. Unfortunately, the very boisterous and outspoken minority devoted to Japan-bashing has been superb at winning attention for itself, and has also done a good job getting ordinary Chinese onto the streets, perhaps making their cause appear more popular than it actually is.

April 26, 2005 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

hi bellevue,
are you in shanghai?
ok, to everyone else,
i just got a notice that there will be a documentary film about the pro–ests, which are no longer described as anti-japanese (fan-ri), but rather “Japan-related” (she-ri). i also know that my friends using china mobile get all kinds of messages about this stuff, but i haven’t gotten any on china unicom.
i think that these reports about arresting people, and attempts to calm people down will actually backfire and make the people involved angry, this time at their government sponsors. i saw an essay making a similar argument on boxun, comparing the april 25th commentaries to the april 26th commentary in ’89, which stated that stability and order took precedence over all else, and said that the students were threatening order. it angered people then, and probably will also now (although i want to emphasize that i see the two situations in very different lights)

April 27, 2005 @ 12:51 am | Comment

oh sorry, i am a space cadet, the documentary is supposedly friday night at six at the jingan community center on jiaozhou lu (or something like that). i am sure that this official gathering will view all this from a very interesting perspective…

April 27, 2005 @ 12:53 am | Comment

No, not in Shanghai right now, but Jiefang Ribao the mouthpiece of Shanghai government has an editorial surprisingly hostile to anti-Japan protesters:

April 27, 2005 @ 5:51 am | Comment

I am an American who DID NOT RUN AWAY FROM BEIJING during the SARS epidemic.
And Mark Anthony Jones did NOT spend the entire SARS epidemic in Beijing, as I did!
He mentioned how ALL of the Americans in HIS city (OUTSIDE of Beijing) fled during the SARS time.
But I did not flee. And I’m a Yank.
And I have met many callow, shallow little Brits (and Australians, but mostly Brits) who enjoy running down Americans like MAJ has tried to do here.
But MAJ did not spend the SARS epidemic in Beijing. I DID! I stayed, I held my ground and kept doing my job. And I’m a Yank.
Suck on that, MAJ, you callow little anti-american coward. And remember how we Yankees held our ground against the odds and defeated the Brits and drove them from our soil. And remember what we did at Normandy and at Iwo Jima.
And remember that Britain would not be free today, if it weren’t for the Yanks.
Sorry, but MAJ just strikes me as the most contemptible kind of callow, cowardly little British intellectual.
(Or is he Australian? Same thing to me. They have the same Queen.)
And I lived through the SARS epidemic IN BEIJING! And so, MAJ’s remarks enraged me – and all of my Chinese friends in Beijing would be enraged if they read what MAJ said.
One more thing, about the law.
I AM A LAWYER! And I can tell you, MAJ was talking out his ass, when he threatened a lawsuit for defamation.
The simple legal answer to this is, that Richard never told any lies about MAJ’s remarks – because all of MAJ’s remarks are on this blog, in MAJ’s own words. There is not the slightest cause for a lawsuit here.
Anyway, I seldom post here, but MAJ’s remarks about the SARS epidemic made me blow a fuse, because UNLIKE Mark Anthony Jones,
And one more time, I say to MAJ, in reply to his remark about how the Americans fled from SARS: Go to hell, because THIS Yankee STAYED in Beijing, quite unlike MAJ.
And remember how we Yanks defeated the callow vapid little Brits at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.
Remember it, always, always…. 🙂

April 27, 2005 @ 8:54 am | Comment

Ivan, thanks for your input; Mark still doesn’t understand why my blood pressure rose as I read his comments, which anyone living in Beijing in March and April of 2003 would find offensive.

I admit, I left Beijing in April of that year. But not because of SARS – I had given my notice a full month before that. SARS simply capped off a most interesting and at times challenging experience for me.

April 27, 2005 @ 9:53 am | Comment

richard, I may have overstated my case a little. I think we’re pretty much in agreement here.

April 27, 2005 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

i am neutral on mark-richard debate, but i hope mark will continue making contributions to this blog, his remarks are usually very smart and stimulating …

April 29, 2005 @ 6:29 am | Comment

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