First Person Account From Inside The China Protests

Over the past two days we reported (here and here) on the Shanghai trucker protests over high has prices and low wages, which from peaceful promptly turned violent as more people joined the clashes against police (it appears only in America do people not protest these things). Today we present a first person recount of what is really happening in China, as unfortunately nothing coming out of the world's "fastest growing" economy can be relied upon.

The protests are very contained, as the gov is obviously powerful enough to stop it before it gets out of hand. My best friend was up in Beijing back in the beginning of March, though, and happened to be there on protest day and she said there were guards, policeman, military and they even brought a tank in! (like Tiananmen Square part II). She got out of Beijing asap as it was quite scary. I have yet to see a protest here in Shanghai, but that's because they have military dressed up as street cleaners and such in proposed protest spots to keep things in order. There are rumors that the gov itself is organizing the protests to catch anyone who shows up (those who have, have been detained and the talk is that they are likely sentenced to death or life in prison). The gov has also heightened its lockdown on the internet, blocking even more sites and the interest is sooo slow sometimes from all the blocking activity. Not sure if you've seen the disputes with Google, but without my VPN that connects me to the US, I typically can barely access gmail because the gov reads all incoming and outgoing mails from the China server. 

Other than the internet, though, my life hasn't been affected and I actually forgot the protesting was going on. Yep - that's how well they hide it. My western Chinese friends (those born in China with western citizenship and thinking) say that the people will eventually overtake the gov. My local friends are basically loyal to the gov and brain washed into thinking that their gov is great and they don't understand the protesting. I personally don't think much will come from the protesting. The gov has too tight of grip on its people and its communication (monitoring phones, interest, ect), they've instilled way too much fear into the people by making it clear that the punishment for protesting is severe (including death) and while there are a lot of people protesting more publicly now, there are, on average over the years, some 150 protests per day around China that no one even knows about because the gov keeps it so well under wraps. And while in absolute terms it seems like there are a lot of protests, a large percentage of the 1.3+ billion people here don't even understand what a protest is. 

And if all else fails, the government has a back up plan to blast American Idol on every Chinese TV 24/7, and remove the Turn Off option. Who says we never export anything.

In the meantime, however, as Reuters reports, things are a long way from being back to normal:

Striking truck drivers protested for a third day on Friday in Shanghai's main harbor district amid heavy police presence and signs the action has already started to curb exports from the world's busiest container port.

The strike is a very public demonstration of anger over rising consumer prices and fuel price increases in China.

It comes as the government struggles to contain higher inflation, which hit 5.4 percent in March, fearful that rising prices could fuel protests like those that have rocked the Middle East.

A crowd of up to 600 people milled about outside an office of a logistics company near the Baoshan Port, one of the city's ports. Some threw rocks at trucks whose drivers had not joined in the strikes, breaking the windows of at least one truck.

The strikers, many of them independent contractors who carry goods to and from the port, stopped work on Wednesday demanding the government do something about high fuel costs and what some called high fees charged by logistics firms, said the drivers, who clashed with police on Thursday.

China is especially wary about threats to social stability following online calls for Middle East-inspired "Jasmine Revolution" protests and has detained dozens of dissidents, including renowned artist Ai Weiwei.

As many as 50 police officers were at the area on Friday, and at least two people were arrested after throwing rocks at trucks. Plainclothes officers also briefly detained some foreign reporters and manhandled a Reuters photographer.

The crowd thinned out after a policeman said authorities planned to meet representatives of the truck drivers on Monday for talks aimed at ending the strike.

"Please disperse and go back," he said through a megaphone to truckers who had gathered near a road junction. "We are already talking to your representatives. There will be an answer for you on Monday."

But two truck drivers told Reuters that they would continue their campaign for the government to offset the rising cost of fuel.

"We are continuing our strike," said a 38-year-old truck driver surnamed Liu. "There has been no response from the government or anybody else. There's nothing we can do."

It has gotten to the point where it will likely affect the broader economy.

Duncan Innes-Ker, China analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the strikes could inspire protests by workers in other transport sectors, given rising fuel prices.

"There are strikes in the taxi driver industry on a regular basis in numerous cities across China," he said. "These are happening and they will continue to happen, and if the oil price continues to rise they will get worse."

China said in early April it would lift retail gasoline and diesel prices by 5-5.5 percent to record highs.

An official reached by telephone at Shanghai International Port (Group) Co, which runs the Shanghai port, told Reuters the strike "has not affected operations," though would not comment further.

But one executive said the action was already starting to affect the port's operations, at least for exports.

"The strike has delayed exports and many ships cannot take on a full load before leaving," said Wei Yujun, assistant to the general manager at China Star Distribution Center (Shanghai) Co.

"For example, if one ship carries 5,000 containers en route to Hong Kong and the U.S., now they can only carry 1,000 or 2,000 containers," Wei said, adding that such containers typically carry goods such as textiles and machinery.

Traders said that the strike had caused only minimal disruptions to refined copper flows. Waigaoqiao, together with two other bonded areas in Shanghai, hold about 80 percent of China's bonded copper stocks.

"There is more than enough stocks in the bonded warehouses to offset any short-term impact on supplies," said Bonnie Liu, a Macquarie analyst based in Shanghai.

Shanghai's most active copper futures contract closed flat at 71,440 yuan at midday.


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