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China's hardline politics clash with soft power
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 7, 2012

China to 'resolutely crack down' on Tibetan unrest
Beijing (AFP) Feb 7, 2012 - China said Tuesday it would "resolutely crack down" on any attempts to instigate violence in Tibetan-inhabited areas, where authorities have launched a deadly clampdown on protesters.

At least two people were killed last month in clashes between police and locals in the southwestern province of Sichuan, which has big populations of ethnic Tibetans, many of whom complain of oppression under Chinese rule.

"The Chinese government will resolutely crack down on any attempt to incite violence, disrupt national unity and territorial integrity in accordance with law," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

The unrest in Sichuan -- which borders the Tibet autonomous region -- comes at a time of rising tensions in Tibetan-inhabited areas, where rights groups say at least 19 monks and nuns have set themselves alight in less than a year.

Exile group Free Tibet and US-based broadcaster RFA reported that three self-immolations happened in a remote village of Sichuan on Friday, but local authorities quoted in the official Global Times newspaper denied this.

On Monday, the Tibetan government-in-exile said the wave of self-immolations was a desperate response to "new levels" of Chinese persecution and urged the international community to engage with Beijing to prevent further violence.

Authorities have launched a huge clampdown on Tibetan-inhabited areas, increasing surveillance of monasteries and setting up more road blocks.

In a statement posted on its website Monday, Tibet's government said any official found failing in his or her "duty" of maintaining stability "must be fired on the spot and will be subject to disciplinary penalties".

China has accused overseas organisations pro independence for Tibet of distorting facts about what happened in Sichuan, and has blamed the Dalai Lama -- Tibet's exiled spiritual leader -- of fomenting Tibetan unrest.

"We believe the series of incidents are obviously masterminded and incited by someone behind the scenes," Liu said.

Tibetans have long chafed at China's rule over the vast Tibetan plateau, accusing Beijing of curbing religious freedoms and eroding their culture and language, and these tensions have intensified over the past year.

Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion.

China's hardline political stance, as shown by its veto of a UN resolution on Syria at the weekend, is increasingly clashing with the Asian powerhouse's efforts to improve its image abroad, analysts say.

Beijing and Moscow both came under a barrage of criticism for blocking the UN resolution condemning Damascus for its brutal crackdown on protests, with Washington calling their rejection a "travesty".

Many saw the veto as a sign of Beijing's growing confidence in international affairs and a taste of things to come as China rapidly expands its global reach and becomes increasingly powerful.

But analysts said the veto was part of China's long-standing policy of non-interference in other nations' internal affairs.

"Beijing runs into repeated problems when national policy collides with improving China's image," said Jonathan Fenby, head of the China team at research group Trusted Sources.

"That was the case with the jailing of the Nobel Peace prize winner (Liu Xiaobo) and now with the veto over Syria. China puts its national policy first including defence of 'core interests' and pays a price on the soft power side."

The fact that the UN vote came just hours after Syrian troops were accused of killing hundreds of civilians only exacerbated the international uproar.

China has a unenviable reputation as an authoritarian state that represses freedom of expression and does not tolerate dissent.

Crackdowns on pro-democracy movements, and efforts to stamp out opposition movements in Tibetan and mostly-Muslim Uighur areas have only cemented the view.

But conscious of this reputation, the one-party regime has poured billions of dollars into trying to improve its image abroad.

In 2009, Beijing announced a huge expansion of its state-run television CCTV, radio CRI and news agency Xinhua abroad, with the latter renting a huge billboard on New York's Time Square.

It has also expanded its Confucius Institutes -- designed to promote Chinese language and culture -- with more than 640 outlets now scattered around the globe, including 350 in the United States alone.

Beijing's aid abroad rose by nearly 30 percent every year between 2004 and 2009, according to state media, and China builds infrastructure for poorer countries, such as the recent African Union headquarters in Ethiopia.

On the diplomatic front, it has scored points by participating in UN peacekeeping missions or anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia, and by chairing mechanisms such as talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear drive.

"Beijing is pretty successful in promoting a positive image of China to foreign audiences, especially in the non-Western world. People are impressed by its economic success and social stability," said William Callahan, politics professor at the University of Manchester.

"In the West, however, I don't think that Beijing has been so successful."

Communist Party leaders recently acknowledged this, and earlier this year, President Hu Jintao urged more efforts to increase the nation's cultural influence overseas.

But China's alliances with regimes that are out-of-favour with Western countries -- such as Sudan, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe -- do not help in the eyes of many global players.

"CCP (Chinese Communist Party) ruling groups know that many people in the democracies imagine Chinese foreign policy as one of choosing to support cruel pariah regimes," said Edward Friedman, politics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"CCP leaders instead see China as a late-comer to the world market and therefore being forced to go to places which the OECD nations (such as the United States, Britain and France) do not dominate," he said.

This "often means governments suffering from OECD sanctions or conditionalities, from Angola to North Korea".

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University, said China considered both its own and others' interests when dealing with global issues.

"China has close contact with North Korea (for instance), but China has also twice voted in favour of sanctions against North Korea's nuclear tests, because they threatened safety in Northeast Asia and international peace."

But as China's overseas interests have expanded -- for instance due to its growing energy needs -- it has increasingly become embroiled in complex political disputes, said Sarah McDowall, senior analyst at IHS Global Insight.

"The policy of non-interference has increasingly been put to the test in the last few years," she said, pointing for example to Sudan, where China was quick to recognise South Sudan as an independent state last year.

Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Beijing risked becoming ostracised, particularly after events in the Middle East where some once-authoritarian nations are moving towards democracy.

"If -- as is likely -- new ideas and global values spread in the Middle East and Africa, then China will find itself in a more and more difficult situation," he said.

"Even from China's point of view, the decision on Syria was a mistake, because I think eventually it will hurt China's position amongst people in the Middle East."

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HK chief exec candidate denies poll shenanigans
Hong Kong (AFP) Feb 7, 2012 - The man many expect to be Hong Kong's next chief executive denied Tuesday that he interfered with a university survey to improve his popularity ratings ahead of March elections.

Henry Tang said he had no role in Hong Kong Baptist University's decision to release the survey to local media before it was complete, when it presented the pro-Beijing candidate in a more favourable light compared to his rivals.

"(My team and I) did not interfere in any aspect of the poll," Tang told reporters a day after the dean of the university's School of Communications, Zhao Xinshu, resigned over the scandal.

"I respect academic freedom and their autonomy. This poll is just one of many, it will not have any special effect on the election."

Zhao took responsibility for the survey's early release, saying he did not "fully understand how suspicious such missteps in opinion polls can appear in the eyes of Hong Kong media and the general public."

The poll first appeared in the Sing Tao Daily last month, which reported that based on 836 respondents Tang lagged behind the other leading candidate for chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, by 6.5 percent.

The university later released the complete results based on 1,005 responses, showing Leung enjoyed a more significant lead of 8.9 percent.

Allegations of foul play were kindled when it emerged that Tang's communications adviser had contacted the school to ask about the poll before it had been released.

An internal investigation by the university faulted Zhao for releasing the incomplete results too hastily and over the objections of colleagues, but it found no evidence of political interference.

Current Chief Executive Donald Tsang is about to complete his term and his replacement will be chosen by a pro-Beijing electoral council on March 25.

Tang, a former businessman and number two in the southern financial centre, is believed to have the backing of the mainland authorities who ultimately decide who becomes Hong Kong's chief executive.

Hong Kong's unique electoral process -- a product of its semi-autonomous political system installed under the terms of its handover from British rule in 1997 -- gives opinion polls a special symbolism.

Zhao said the unusually close race between the two top candidates was a first for the city.

"But the people's will is not measured by popular votes. Instead it is gauged by opinion polls," he said in a statement.


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Tibet exiles say repression in China at new heights
Dharamshala, India (AFP) Feb 6, 2012
A continuing spate of self-immolations by Tibetans in China are a desperate response to "new levels" of Chinese persecution, the Tibet government-in-exile said Monday. In a statement from its seat in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala, the exiled government urged the international community to "directly and immediately engage" with the Chinese leadership to prevent further violence. ... read more

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