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Beijing protests: Chinese in uproar over environmentally harmful construction

HONG KONG — The rash of NIMBY protests across China this year has finally arrived in Beijing’s own backyard. On Sunday, roughly 300 protesters staged a march against plans to construct a high-speed rail line through their neighborhood in the eastern district of the capital. While a relatively small demonstration, it is nevertheless noteworthy that it occurred at all: as the seat of national political power, Beijing seldom tolerates even minor protests in the capital.

Chinese protesters force abandonment of chemical plant

HONG KONG – In China, where pollution is rampant, smog is the norm, and cancer is the number one killer, ordinary people are saying enough is enough. For the fourth day, hundreds of protesters in the prosperous coastal city of Ningbo took to the streets to oppose the $8.9 billion expansion of a massive petrochemical plant. Incredibly, Beijing listened — but that hasn't stopped the protests. 

Google's latest anti-censorship play in China a net loss?

HONG KONG — Google’s biggest move against Chinese censorship in two years has won plenty of applause in the West, but skeptics say it does nothing to help Chinese users themselves. Last week, the internet giant rolled out a new feature on its Hong Kong-based search site that warns users when a term they are searching for will be blocked, resulting in being shut out from Google for a minute and a half. It is the company’s most confrontational public move against China’s censors since it left the mainland in 2010 after it was hacked by Chinese attackers. But will it actually make a difference for China’s internet users at large? 

Record crowd marks Tiananmen crackdown in Hong Kong

HONG KONG – Tens of thousands of impassioned protesters thronged downtown Victoria Park to mark the 23rd anniversary of the bloody crackdown. Meanwhile, Beijing sought to supress any mention of the anniversary, going so far as to censor microblogs featuring cryptic references like "today." The Shanghai stock exchange, however, signalled its own bizarre protest, in code.

Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, says China

Chen has reportedly been offered a fellowship at New York University.

Chen Guangcheng: so much for a happy ending

It's too soon to know how the blind activist's case is going to end, but more questions crop up by the minute.
Chen guangcheng china dissident 2012 05 01Enlarge
Blind activist Chen Guangcheng with his wife and son outside the home in northeast China's Shandong province, March 28, 2005. (AFP/Getty Images)

Briefly, it looked as if a there had been a resolution to the Chen Guangcheng situation that appeased all sides.

So long as he left the US Embassy, where the blind activist lawyer had sought refuge since his escape from house arrest, Chen and his family were promised safety and humane treatment. The US, which helped negotiate the deal, appeared to have upheld its values, and China was able to save face.

But no sooner did that storyline coalesce than it started to unravel.

Activists fear that Beijing won't live up to its end of the deal, and the US won't have a way to enforce the agreement. The reasons Chen gave up American protection are in question, since it was reported he was threatened by Chinese officials.

More from GlobalPost: Chen Guangcheng, a watershed for human rights?

"It doesn’t seem that there have been any private assurances made to Chen by Chinese government officials concerning his safety since he left the Embassy, only threats," Elizabeth C. Economy, director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote by email Wednesday.

"In addition, we still haven’t seen any public confirmation that Beijing is planning to live up to its part of the bargain — just a number of condemnations of US actions."


Chen Guangcheng explained

An interview with Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch, on the blind Chinese activist and Beijing struggle with rights.
Chen guangcheng china dissident 2012 05 01Enlarge
Blind activist Chen Guangcheng with his wife and son outside the home in northeast China's Shandong province, March 28, 2005. (AFP/Getty Images)

If you didn't know about Chen Guangcheng last week, chances are you do today. The blind activist's daring and improbable escape from house arrest has drawn attention to his plight, as well as to that of Chinese dissidents in general.

Feigning illness for weeks, Chen convinced his minders he was too weak to move. He was then able to evade his captors and scale the wall of his compound under the cloak of night, escaping the clutches of hundreds of guards at eight separate checkpoints on his way from Shandong province to Beijing.

More from GlobalPost: Is China's blind activist a watershed for human rights?

The news today is that he has left the US Embassy, where he was believed to be sheltered since his escape last week, and transitioned to a medical facility in Beijing. China has reprimanded the US for taking him in, and demanded an apology. The stakes could not be higher, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Beijing for high-level bilateral talks later this week.

To help place Chen's case within the broader picture of human rights in China, GlobalPost spoke with Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The situation in which dissidents find themselves in China is worsening and fast, according to Kine. What China needs to do to change that is hardly rocket science, he says, but neither is it likely to happen at this juncture.

GlobalPost: How does the case of Chen Guangcheng fit into the larger picture of human rights in China?

Phelim Kine: There have been important improvements in basic human rights in China over the last 20-30 years. Chinese people can now travel outside the country. Private property is now enshrined in law. Human rights and the state’s responsibility to protect human rights has also been enshrined in the constitution over the last two decades. So, rhetorically and on paper things have gotten better, and in many ways the lives of many Chinese people have improved.

But over the last five years, the human-rights environment in China has steadily deteriorated. The backsliding began in the runup to the 2008 Olympics, and has resulted in a situation which is now only getting worse. High-profile dissidents, human rights defenders and civil society activists have borne the brunt of the government’s increasingly lower tolerance for peaceful challenges to the status quo.


China's blind activist: watershed for human rights?

HONG KONG — Washington and Beijing are scrambling to reach an agreement about the fate of Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who fled house arrest and is now reportedly in US custody. Experts say Chinese leaders face a stark choice: Embrace this moment as an opportunity for reform, or slip back further into repression.
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