While Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi takes a further step from reality by blaming the unrest in his country on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, there are a couple of interesting China-related developments I wanted to mention before the weekend.
The first relates to an interesting report over on China Sign Post from Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, who penned a guest entry for us earlier this month. They note that the PLA Navy has apparently dispatched a missile frigate usually tied to its ongoing counter piracy task force off Somalia to provide cover for an evacuation mission from Libya.
A military presence to guarantee Chinese citizens’ safety is probably no bad thing, although currently the Libyan regime seems more interested in using its military to target its own citizens, including through the use of combat helicopters and fighter planes.
As they argue, Beijing’s quick response in dispatching the Xuzhou demonstrates a nimble touch in what’s sounding like an increasingly chaotic situation. Erickson and Collins report that as of 23 February, China’s Commerce Ministry was saying at least 27 Chinese-run construction sites had been attacked by armed individuals, resulting in numerous injuries.
The take away quote: ‘Xuzhou’s mission marks an important milestone because to the best of our knowledge, this is the first ever dispatch of a PLA military platform specifically assigned to help protect a non-combatant evacuation operation to help (its) citizens trapped in an active conflict zone.’
On a related note, both myself and fellow China Power blogger Mu Chunshan have discussed the likelihood of a repeat in China of the Arab world unrest. Chinese authorities have been keen to inhibit online discussion of the unrest, with certain keywords related to what’s going on bringing up zero results, while CNN had its coverage of Gaddafi’s speech briefly blacked out during mention of Tiananmen.
On Sunday, I reported on an online call to gather at sites around China that appears to have originated with Boxun, a US-based group of Chinese activists. The call to action prompted a notable police presence at the designated locations (and also seems to have attracted, briefly, the attention of US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman), but there seems to have been very little evidence of what could be termed a significant organised protest, with many people appearing to gather simply to see who would gather.
Still, Boxun—dubbed the ‘Jasmine Rallies Organizers’—has followed up with an open letter to the National People’s Congress urging people to gather every Sunday at 2 pm at the list of locations it provides. Human Rights in China has provided a translation of the letter, which includes this call:
‘We do not support violent revolution; we continue to support non-violent non-cooperation. We invite every participant to stroll, watch, or even just pretend to pass by. As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear.’
This could be interesting. If the authorities are too heavy-handed over any ensuing peaceful gatherings they risk inspiring more unrest. But if they don’t respond, and people are encouraged by the lack of a crackdown to gather in increasingly large numbers, then the government could start to have some problems.