In Confrontation Over U.S. Spy Plane, China Keeps
Protesters In Check, For Now
|A Chinese military policeman stands guard outside
the U.S. Embassy April 4, 2001 in Beijing. (Photo by Peter Rogers/Newsmakers)
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BEIJING (April 6) -- The lone protester outside
the U.S. Embassy had scrawled just a few angry lines on his poster when
Chinese police led him away.
``Give us back our
Chinese pilot,'' the young man wrote. ``Blood debts must be repaid in
In the confrontation with Washington over a U.S. spy plane, Beijing
is taking care for now to manage public anger. Four people tried to
put up protest posters outside the U.S. Embassy on Thursday -- and police
led them quietly away.
It was a far cry from the support
the government gave to tens of thousands of protesters who besieged the
U.S. mission after NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999.
Then, authorities bused protesters in and police set out signs showing
them which way to march. They were allowed to throw rocks and bottles of
ink at its walls.
This time, China is keeping public anger
confined to the virtual worlds of the Internet and state-controlled media.
State TV has for two days broadcast footage of angry citizens condemning
the United States. Some read from cue cards. All hew closely to the
government line: the United States is at fault for the collision Sunday
between the U.S. Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter.
The Chinese pilot is missing, feared dead. China insists that
Washington apologize and is holding the 24 crew members of the U.S. plane
that made an emergency landing.
Without a nod of approval from the
government, only a few Chinese appear ready to take their anger to the
Without fanfare, the lone protester knelt down opposite
the U.S. Embassy's iron gates, rolled out a sheet of paper, pinned down
its corners with stones and started to scrawl.
``We don't want
American money, we want dignity,'' he wrote.
By time two police
officers walked over, the poster was nearly covered. They led him to a
waiting van and drove away. A few hours later the man came back. He
wouldn't give his name but said he was a worker and that the police asked
him a few questions before letting him go.
``If China is pushed
into a corner, it will fight back,'' he told a reporter.
also detained three other men who put up posters on utility poles. Police
took down the posters, which showed a boot walking on China's red flag and
the words: ``The Chinese people cannot be trampled on.''
Apparently to forestall any protests, police had tightened
security near the embassy by midweek and guards questioned passers-by.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi, said Thursday that China
would protect the safety of foreign embassies. He noted that Chinese can
only protest with official permission.
Chinese leaders fear that
public anger could run out of control, threatening their rule and
relations with Washington. But by managing public anger and giving the
impression that it could boil over, the communist government may be trying
to add weight to its demands for an apology. The White House has refused
to apologize, saying the plane was in international airspace and did
``The U.S. side must apologize'' the state-run
Guangzhou Daily newspaper blared in its front-page headline.
Secretary of State Colin Powell's expression of regret Wednesday for the
missing Chinese pilot came too late to make most Chinese papers. The
Beijing Evening News, an afternoon paper, did not report Powell's comments
in its Thursday editions.
Instead, newspapers featured articles -
likely to heighten public emotions - about the missing pilot's wife and
``Wang Wei, our son and I are waiting for you,''
they quoted his wife, Yuan Guoqin, as saying.
Commentary in online
chat rooms was indignant. Writers heaped scorn upon U.S. demands for the
return of the plane and crew.
Web sites are an increasingly
popular forum for public discussion in China, though carefully monitored
by censors who remove comments that the government doesn't want. In
addition, it isn't clear whether the government, which uses the entirely
state-run media to spread its views, doesn't also plant comments online to
influence discussion. But the fact that comments were not deleted
suggested that censors did not consider them objectionable.
``We lost a hero and a fighter jet. However, we've also got 24 killers
and a surveillance plane. The U.S. should be more worried than us,''
one surfer, identified as Wang Jx, wrote on the bulletin board run by
elite Fudan University in Shanghai.