Has China gotten some new ideas from the United States about how to break up protests and strikes?
According to a US-based group that monitors Chinese labor issues, police in the western city of Chengdu recently used pepper spray on protesting workers to get them to disperse. China Labor Watch said in a news release that about 2,000 workers went on strike at the Chengdu Steel factory on Jan. 4, demanding higher pay and full disclosure of managers' salaries. The striking workers, who said they were encouraged by the actions of other labor actions in the region, blocked traffic for several hours until police finally broke up their protest with pepper spray.
Pepper spray, which is widely available in the United States, is not a routine crowd-dispersment tool in China. Armed soldiers and physical violence are more the norm here. American police have come under heavy criticism in recent weeks for spraying passive protesters during several incidents during the Occupy Wall Street protests that spread across the US.
China is battling against what may be an increase in worker discontent this year, although it's impossible to tell because the government doesn't disclose the full number of protests it deals with each year. It'll be worth watching if pepper spray becomes a crowd-control method of choice for the regime.