12/15/2004, 00.00
CHINA
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Hu Jintao cracks down on intellectuals and media

Leader appeals to army to back Communist Party to stop protests.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Recent events show that China's new leadership is determined to tighten its grip over power by strengthening its control of party, army and information media and by cracking down on dissidents with little regard for the country's international image.

This was made clear last Monday when three intellectuals, Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie and Zhang Zuhua, were taken away from their homes for interrogation and released the next day. All three are active members of the Independent Chinese Pen Centre (ICPC), an organisation created in 2001 to defend dissident writers.

ICPC's founder, Liu Binyan, now lives in exile in the United States. Mr Liu is the author of A Second Kind of Loyalty, a book written right after the Tiananmen Square massacre and published in 1990 in New York in which he was the first to question unconditional obedience to the Communist Party. Mr Liu was not permitted to return to China but the ICPC grew rapidly under current chairman Liu Xiaobo and Secretary Yu Jie.

The organisation is affiliated with PEN, an international organisation that defends writers. This link with the outside world has made ICPC suspect in the eyes of the authorities. However, they have been reluctant to act against it for fear of repercussions abroad. Until now, that is.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, ICPC member Zhao Dagong said that Hu Jintao, China's current President and Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party, is less concerned about China's international image than in restricting freedom and human rights.

According to him, President Hu's goal is to perpetuate one-party rule at whatever cost, hence, his disregard for the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong and his hard-line approach to Taiwan.

It is fundamental to understand that in China the enormous social and economic changes underway are generating increasing dissatisfaction and discontent. Peasants, blue collar workers, migrants, the unemployed are all petitioning and complaining to the authorities. Demonstrations and protest rallies are being organised and clashes, sometime violent, with police and corrupt local officials are breaking out. But instead of facing the problems, China's leaders are opting for a crackdown and for bolstering its propaganda.

In a December 1 politburo study session, Mr Hu urged his colleagues "to tap into the party's past to find its future path" and demanded the party strengthen itself against corrosive foreign influences.

Communist Party propaganda department has ordered tighter controls over the media to better guide public opinion. Newspaper, television and Websites must offer a better image of the party and filter bad news that might lead to social unrest and foreign capital flight.

One journalist who did not learn his lesson was Li Xueqian, editor-in-chief of the China Youth Daily, who was forced to resign. He was replaced by Li Erliang who previously edited a trade newspaper belonging to the People's Daily.

The China Youth Daily had been aggressive in exposing cases of corruption by government and party officials. The People's Daily follows instead the rigid ideological line of the party.

Other papers have also seen their staff changes.

But for the Communist Party to achieve its goals it needs the army. In a paper reported by the Xinhua news agency, Hu Jintao, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, reiterated the need for the party to "firmly control the army" from a political and ideological points of view.

"The military," he said, "is essential to consolidate the power of the Communist Party" and "guarantee long-term peace to society".

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