Chinese Protest Removal of Presidential Term Limits Outside China

2018-03-15
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Chinese living in California gather in Sacramento to protest changes to China's constitution, March 14, 2018.
Chinese living in California gather in Sacramento to protest changes to China's constitution, March 14, 2018.
RFA

Following a protest campaign against indefinite rule by Chinese president Xi Jinping across university campuses outside China, a group of activists took their protest to the streets of California this week.

Holding banners and chanting "Oppose dictatorship!", a group of ethnic Chinese residents of the city converged on the California State Legislature in Sacramento.

"Long live freedom and democracy!" they chanted. "Mobilize nationally for a constitutional government!"

Some held posters of Xi similar to those produced by a "Not My President" social media campaign that have sprung up on campuses across the world in recent days.

Wu Pinghui, a former student leader of 1989 pro-democracy protests in the central city of Wuhan, said the protest was aimed at "opposing dictatorship" in China, after the country's rubber-stamp parliament gave the green light to the removal of presidential term-limits last week.

"We are demonstrating outside the California State Legislature building, because lawmakers in the United States have passed so many laws that are progressive for humanity," Wu said. "But in Chinese territory, history is regressing into the past."

"We call on all Chinese people of conscience, who want freedom and equality, not to remain silent," he said. "We should speak out together, to put huge pressure on this tiny minority of robber barons."

Wu hit out at the NPC's approval of Xi's constitutional amendments on Sunday, with just two opposing votes out of nearly 3,000.

"They will go down in history with shame because they approved this," he said.

Little support for Xi

Fellow protester Tong Mu, of the rights group Humanitarian China, said that while dissent has been tightly suppressed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party domestically, Xi's move has very little support in the Chinese diaspora.

"Pretty much all of them, whether they are part of the government or outside the government, know very well what is happening; it's just a question of whether they dare to speak out or not," Tong told RFA.
"Outside China, we can speak out, because they can't shut us up."

He said the removal this week of a Chinese journalist from the NPC press corps after she rolled her eyes at a pro-government journalist's question has become a symbol of just how careful people have to be in their criticism, direct or implied, of the government.

"This isn't going to go any better than it did under [late Romanian dictator] Nicolae Ceaușescu," Tong said. "There are plenty of people among the ruling elite in China who have had enough of [Xi], and the future is too worrying to contemplate."

"There will be no going back for [Xi] now, not now that he has taken this step."

Protester Cai Zhenxiang, who hails from the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, said the rest of the world is heading in a more democratic direction, with only China heading in the other direction.

"It really is a tragedy," Cai said. "Perhaps people back home can't see it yet, but they should wake up. They shouldn't stay asleep any longer."

And Sacramento resident Liu Lina, who moved to the city from Shanghai, said things are about to get far worse for ordinary Chinese people back home.

"I keep praying to God ... that there will be a sudden awakening, and a turning back towards humanity," she said. "But it's very unclear whether there is any hope of that happening."

Online campaign

On Twitter, which is blocked for users behind the complex system of filters, blocks, and human censorship known collectively as the Great Firewall, a student-focused campaign group has been using the hashtag #IDontAgree to campaign against the constitutional amendments on campuses in the U.S., Australia, and other countries.

"Xi Jinping's unrestricted presidency needs to be ended now," the campaign's Twitter account profile reads, adding the hashtag #NotMyPresident and calling on students to make protest posters and display them wherever they are studying.

Photographs posted to the account showed posters bearing similar wording displayed on campuses all around the world, including Monash in Australia, Leiden in the Netherlands, University of California at Irvine in the U.S., and St. Andrews in Scotland.

But the account said many Chinese nationals studying overseas run the risk of political reprisals if they take part.

"We put up our posters ... at night. We suggest other interested students wear a mask while participating on their campuses," the campaign account tweeted on Mar. 8. "These are U.S. colleges. Ever thought of why we would do that?"

According to Chinese activists on overseas campuses, China's state security police are recruiting agents, some of them as long-term "moles," from among the more than half a million students studying overseas.

Chinese police are particularly keen to infiltrate overseas Chinese dissident groups, such as those fighting for democracy in their home country, or among emigre ethnic minority Tibetans and Uyghurs, according to Georgia University student and activist Sulaiman Gu, who made a recording of one attempt to recruit him by the secret police in January.

Reported by C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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