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What’s Behind China’s Crackdown on Dissidents?

The Chinese government, worried about the prospect of a “Jasmine revolution,” has been cracking down on pro-democracy activists over the past six weeks. The highest-profile case occurred on Sunday, when the government detained prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei as he was boarding a plane to Hong Kong. The U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union have already called for his release. But according to the activist group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, hundreds of others have also been detained, “disappeared,” and put under house arrest since mid-February.

The crackdown was reportedly ordered by top Chinese Communist Party leaders at a secret meeting at a Beijing university on February 19. But according to Renee Xia at Foreign Policy, the growing number of detentions may also have to do with China’s increasing security budget, which has encouraged more aggressive behavior by local police:

For lower-level national security police, the order is also an opportunity to fatten their budgets by claiming a larger piece of the pie known as “funds to maintain stability.” On March 5, the Ministry of Finance announced the 2011 budget for maintaining stability would approach $95 billion—up 21.5 percent from 2010. With the incentive to boost local security budgets, police have aggressively pursued anyone who might fit the profile of “de-harmonizing elements.” In other words, the greater the number of individuals whom police can label as “dissidents” within their communities, the greater the amount of funding they can request in the future.

That has likely contributed to the number of detentions. But the fact that the government is going after internationally-known and widely respected figures like Ai Weiwei is also a sign that the Chinese Communist Party is growing increasingly fearful and paranoid.

“If they are willing to go this far with someone like him, then all bets are off,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, who heads the Hong Kong office of the Dui Hua Foundation, in the Wall Street Journal.


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