Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Beijing warns off protestors with SMS, braces for May 4


China has launched a new effort to prevent anti-Japanese violence before a sensitive anniversary, warning against protests and calling on the public to express patriotism sensibly.

"Express patriotism rationally. Don't take part in illegal protests. Don't make trouble," said a text message sent by Beijing police to millions of mobile phone users in the capital. Warnings also were spread by text message and state media in several other cities in the campaign, launched Saturday.

Chinese leaders have demanded calm following weeks of protests that damaged Japan's Beijing embassy and a consulate, warning of possible damage to important economic ties with Tokyo.

But official concern could be especially acute as China marks the anniversary on Wednesday of an anti-Japanese protest on May 4, 1919, that has become a symbol of resistance to foreign domination.

The anniversary is awkward for Chinese leaders, because the protesters in 1919 complained that China's leaders were weak in the face of Japanese aggression -- a charge that current rulers are eager to avoid. The 1919 protests erupted after Japan was awarded Germany's former colonies in China following World War I. Despite public pressure, Chinese leaders failed to recover the territory from Tokyo, which expanded its control to much of China during the 1930s and early 40s.

The latest wave of anti-Japanese protests began with complaints about new Japanese schoolbooks that critics say minimize Tokyo's wartime abuses, as well as opposition to Japan's campaign for a permanent UN Security Council seat and disputes over territory in the East China Sea.

There was no word of any new protests Saturday. Last weekend also passed without demonstrations, following three straight weekends when thousands of people held rallies in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. Police in Beijing and Shanghai denied rumors that they approved public gatherings and warned that demonstrators could face legal action. Chinese leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) have expressed sympathy with the protesters' sentiments.

Some have suggested communist leaders might have allowed earlier protests in order to undermine Tokyo's Security Council campaign. But now they apparently fear that permitting more demonstrations might damage relations with Japan and encourage people with other grievances to take to the streets.

"To ensure social stability, police will not approve any rally, demonstration or protest in the near future," said a notice from Shanghai police that appeared in newspapers and was read on local television.

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