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China moves to squelch potential protests

A lock around a computer symbolizes Internet crime and online theft.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for sanctions on Libya. That's after the Libyan government's violent crackdown against demonstrators there. Over the past month, the unrest has spread across the Middle East and North Africa. But could the spark of government protests ignite against other authoritarian regimes? Reports are the Chinese government has detained activists. And is clamping down on Internet information about protests elsewhere.

Marketplace China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz is with us from Shanghai with more. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ: Good morning Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So what are the chances this revolution could reach China?

SCHMITZ: I think most people in the know would say slim to none. Some of the conditions that underlay what's happened in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and elsewhere do exist in China -- income inequality, education inequality, abuse of government power. But there's something that China has that these other countries don't have, and that's a thriving economy.

I spoke with William McCahill at Pacific Epoch Group.

WILLIAM MCCAHILL: There are hundreds of millions of stakeholders. And there are very, very few people willing to jeopardize what they've taken from that new economy.

And it should be noted that the global ramifications of an upheaval in China would be much more severe than a slight rise in oil prices, which is what everyone's concerned about from the protests in Libya.

CHIOTAKIS: So if nobody in China, Rob, is going to revolt, then why is the government there rounding up people? And also we have reports that they're censoring the Internet?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, ever since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, China's central government has taken any potential threat, no matter how small, very seriously. This past weekend, a couple hundred people showed up in central Beijing after a rumor spread online that there'd be protests in a dozen Chinese cities. Instead of a protest, there were just a bunch of gawkers taking pictures of each other with their cellphones and not really doing anything -- and that's about as serious a protest as China's government would like to see.

CHIOTAKIS: Marketplace China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz in Shanghai. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Steve.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.
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The chained computer illustration has a caption below telling us it symbolizes internet theft. We know better. It's about censorship and control by government. I thought it interesting a caption had to be created so we wouldn't think the obvious.

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