The Jasmine Revolution and its aftereffects are usually thought of as a regional phenomenon confined to the Middle East but such a picture is incomplete. Barely noticed clashes have erupted in North Korea, calls for revolution are been voiced in Vietnam and the Chinese government is scrambling to stop protests that have been planned for every Sunday.
The North Korean government had good reason to be worried and set up a special force once the Jasmine Revolution began. For the first time, its population expressed outrage at the government’s currency reform plans in November 2009. The backlash was enough to force the policy to be dropped. An apology was even made and a top official was executed. Over half of the population is now reading foreign news and an underground network circulates information in and out of North Korea. The succession process makes the regime more nervous, resulting in military provocations and political purges.
Trouble began for the regime on February 14 after it failed to deliver promised goods in the days leading up to Kim Jong-Il’s birthday. Dozens of people in North Pyongan Province demanded electricity and food. On February 18 in Sinuiju, the security forces had a confrontation with traders at the market, resulting in an assault on one trader to the point where he was unconscious. The family members of the victim protested and were quickly joined by other traders, resulting in the deployment of more soldiers and police. A source to one newspaper reported that “hundreds” were involved in the clashes. The true number is unknown but the clashes are an unprecedented and important development in the Hermit Kingdom.
South Korea has also begun trying to incite unrest by sending tens of thousands of helium balloons delivering messages, medicine, food, clothing and radios up to 200 kilometers into North Korea. The messages inform the readers of the revolutions in the Middle East and boldly say, “a dictatorial regime is bound to collapse.” The regime is threatening to attack the areas from which the balloons are launched and has said it will destroy loudspeakers near the border if they broadcast anti-government messages into the country.
The communist government of Vietnam is also frightened. A top democratic opposition leader named Nguyen Dan Que was arrested in late February after calling on the Vietnamese people to follow in the footsteps of the Tunisians and Egyptians. He spoke of accomplishing a “clean sweep of Communist dictatorship and build[ing] a new, free, democratic, humane and progressive Vietnam.” He was shortly thereafter released but 60,000 files from his computer were taken. The government says they will question him further as their investigation into opposition activities continues. Que is allowed to go home at night but must return to a police station during the day.
The Jasmine Revolution’s domino effect has even reached China. On February 19 and 20, the authorities deployed a large amount of security forces to stop planned protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities. Over 100 democratic activists were arrested or placed under house arrest. Greater Internet censorship began with more websites being blocked and users were even prevented from searching the word “jasmine” on Twitter and other social networking websites.
A crowd of hundreds still formed in Beijing and Shanghai and activists are spreading the word about protesting every Sunday by having “peaceful strolls” with no signs or chanting so that the police have little reason to arrest them. University campuses have been surrounded by security forceswhen the government has learned of the demonstrations and journalists are not being permitted to visit the protest sites. Those who do say they are harassed. Major streets and commercial centers are the scene of police dogs, security agents dressed as civilians, paramilitary personnel and special forces. The ruling party is now discussing further Internet censorship and at least 20 have been charged for their role in organizing the protests.
Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, told FrontPage that “We are, in short, witnessing the last days of the People’s Republic” and a single action could cause a chain of events resulting in huge changes in the government.
“At the moment, many are intimidated by the overwhelming police presence that Beijing employed at Jasmine Revolution sites. Yet no amount of state power can change the minds of the Chinese that they need a new form of government,” Chang said.
“When the Chinese lose their fear—and that moment is coming soon—we will see the strength of the discontent in society,” he said.
No oppressive government can be confident in times like these. The world is focused on the rapidly changing events in the Middle East but there is a freedom movement just as important in Asia, even if few are paying attention to it.
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