Monday, December 12, 2005

Meaningful and positive results

It never hurts to remind ourselves about the quaint ways of that warm, liberal country called the People's Republic of China, with which the EU, courtesy of Tony Blair, has declared itself a "strategic partner".

Thus do we refer to a news story, the full details of which are brought to us courtesy of Ireland Online, which headlines the piece: "Chinese police shoot wind farm protestors".

The significance of this becomes apparent when contrasted to the The BBC Today Programme this morning which described the protest as being over a "power plant" - giving no indication as to which type. It would seem that the BBC is reluctant to mention the word "wind" in this context.

That aside, this turns out to have been a major incident, with hundreds of riot police armed with guns and shields, who surrounded and sealed off a southern Chinese village where authorities are reported to have shot dead as many as 20 demonstrators.

Residents in Dongzhou, a village in Guangdong province, said thousands of people had gathered on Tuesday to protest what they said was inadequate compensation being offered for land to be used in the construction of a wind power plant. Police fired into the crowd and killed a handful of people, mostly men, villagers reached by telephone said yesterday. Accounts of the death toll ranged from two and ten, with many missing.

Needless to say, in this liberal, open society, state media have made no mention of the incident and both provincial and local governments have repeatedly refused to comment. All the villagers said they were nervous and scared and most did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. One man said the situation was still "tumultuous".

A 14-year-old girl said a local official visited the village yesterday and called the shootings "a misunderstanding". "He said (he) hoped it wouldn't become a big issue," the girl said over the telephone. "This is not a misunderstanding. I am afraid. I haven't been to school in days," she added. "Come save us."

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper today quoted villagers who said authorities were trying to conceal the deaths by offering families money to give up bodies of the dead. "They offered us a sum but said we would have to give up the body," an unidentified relative of one slain villager, 31-year-old Wei Jin, was quoted as saying. "We are not going to agree."

This incident is one of a number of protests in China's vast, poverty-stricken countryside has risen in recent months as anger comes to a head over corruption, land seizures and a yawning wealth gap that experts say now threatens social stability. The government says about 70,000 such conflicts occurred last year, although many more are believed to go unreported. Clashes have grown more violent, with injuries on both sides and damage done to property as protesters vent their frustration in face of indifferent or bullying authorities.

Like many cities in China, Shanwei, the city where Dongzhou is located, has cleared suburban land once used for farming to build industrial zones. State media say that the Shanwei Red Bay industrial zone is to have three electrical power plants – a coal-fired plant, a wave power plant and a wind farm. Shanwei already has a large wind farm on an offshore island, with 25 turbines. Another 24 are set for construction. Earlier reports said the building of the 743-million-dollar coal-fired power plant, a major government-invested project for the province, was also disrupted by a dispute over land compensation.

Authorities in Dongzhou were trying to find the leaders of Tuesday's demonstration, a villager said. The man said the bodies of some of the shooting victims "are just lying there". "Why did they shoot our villagers?" he asked. "They are crazy!"

And just to remind you of the EU attitude to this wonderful, liberal society, readers will recall Tony Blair’s visit to China in September, for the 8th EU-China Summit, when he signed a joint statement with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, part of which said:

The two sides underlined their commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and continued to place a high value on the EU-China human rights dialogue. They underlined the importance of concrete steps in the field of human rights and reaffirmed their commitment to further enhance co-operation and exchanges in this field on the basis of equality and mutual respect, while making efforts to achieving more meaningful and positive results on the ground.
Well, we are certainly getting "meaningful and positive results on the ground". But will we be seeing EU condemnations of what is being seen as the largest loss of life through official action since Tiananmen Square in 1989? Will we heck.


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