The authorities control Chinese society very tightly, in particular when it comes to public dissent. All protests against the government are stifled at once. When people try to organise demonstrations through the Internet, often, more police turn up than protesters. But in this case, the authorities and state media have encouraged the protests. The media has repeatedly called for people to express “rational patriotism” over the islands feud. So these demonstrations do not seem very spontaneous.
In fact, it seems that the police even participated in some, if not all, of the protests. The New York Times’ Chinese-language site
reported that in Beijing, plain-clothes policemen instructed people to wave flags via a loudspeaker labelled “police.” Many Chinese Internet users have also claimed to spot plainclothes police officers acting like regular protesters and leading the demonstrations. Several of them posted photos to the Internet of protesters they claimed were police officers, but these were rapidly censored.
“It’s easy for the government to exploit patriotic sentiments to distract from domestic problems”
Usually, the authorities are quick to censor
all Internet search terms associated with particular protests. But this time, throughout the weekend, users of Weibo [the Chinese equivalent of Twitter] could freely search for any terms relating to the anti-Japan protests. They have clamped down a bit since then, however, and now the terms “anti-Japan” and “anti-Japanese” are censored. However, users can still search for the terms “protest” or “Daioyu islands”, which is currently one of the top trending searches.
Trending topics on Weibo afternoon. #1: "918", which refers to Tuesday's anniversary marking the 1931 invasion of Manchuria by Japan. #2: "Diaoyu Islands."
It’s easy for the government to exploit patriotic sentiments to distract from domestic problems they’ve recently encountered – protests over social equality
, cost of life
, environmental issues
, and corruption. In short, as long as the authorities don’t lose control of these protests and there’s not too much violence, they are to the government’s advantage – and that’s why they let them continue.
China has been in dispute over these islands for a long time, but neither China nor Japan has done much about it until now because they share major economic interests. However, China is undergoing a once-in-a-decade power transition, with the 18th Congress of the Communist Party slated for next month. So I believe those currently in government want to show how tough they can be on foreign policy in order to hang on to power.