Whatever you do, don’t mention the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China. Since the uprising in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world, both the plant and even the word itself have created unease.
In February, an online call for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong was met with force. Authorities appear determined to stop any reform seeds from sprouting.
Leung Kwok-Hung, a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, said: “We want the jasmine to grow in front of the symbol of the Chinese Communist regime and we were stopped. Now I really feel that Hong Kong is part of China.”
The same day (February 27), in mainland China, some 200 demonstrators, who had gathered in Shanghai to call for democratic change, were encircled by police. Several protesters were bundled away.
In the capital Beijing, protesters targeted one of the city’s commercial shopping districts. YouTube footage showed the main gathering outside a branch of McDonald’s. Dozens of dissidents and human rights activists have been detained or warned to avoid such activities.
Beijing City Government spokeswoman Wang Hui said: ‘‘Security and stability are a common objective for the Chinese people. Those who hope to incite unrest are deluding themselves. The people who are hoping to inspire a revolt like in the Arab world are doomed to fail.’‘
The power of the internet arguably poses a big challenge to the leadership. Some half a billion Chinese are estimated to have access to it. Critics claim censorship is rife with words such as jasmine, Egypt and Tunisia recently becoming taboo. US web giant Google has accused Chinese authorities of tampering with its email service, something Beijing strongly denies.
Despite that, internal security spending will reportedly soar by nearly 14 percent this year to around 70 billion euros.
The unrest in the Arab world may also pose problems for China in the diplomatic arena. Earlier this month at the UN, it chose not to use its veto to block the Security Council resolution 1973. Neither, however, did it endorse the military action in Libya, deciding instead to abstain.