Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 16:39 UK

Protest not unusual in China

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Shanghai

Muslim ethnic Uighurs cry during a protest in Urumqi in China"s far west Xinjiang region
The protests in Xinjiang are far from an isolated occurrence in China

The protests in Xinjiang over the last few days are the most serious seen in China for many months.

But despite efforts by the authorities to suppress dissent in China, demonstrations are not that unusual.

Every day there are thousands of small protests across this country.

Most go unreported, either because they happen in remote areas, or because they are ended quickly by local officials or the police.

For the authorities there is always the fear that they could turn into something more serious.

'Mass incident'

For three decades in China people have witnessed rapid change as the economy has been opened up. Many have become much richer. Others feel left behind.

Corruption is a major problem. The strains are apparently so intense that small incidents can escalate quickly.

It is not that rare for a street brawl or an altercation over an arrest to turn into what the authorities call a "mass incident" that engulfs a whole neighbourhood.

Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles on a street in the Tibetan capital Lhasa
The current protests have echoes of those in Lhasa last year

When Tibetans protested last year and attacked Han Chinese who lived in that region, the authorities tried to suppress reports of the violence at first.

Then when pictures of the attacks emerged, they realised the rest of the country's population was angry about what had happened and was rallying behind their attempts to punish those responsible.

This time in Xinjiang we have seen a different approach.

The Chinese authorities have still tried to control access to the area, and to ensure that journalists are accompanied by minders, but they have been far more willing to allow footage showing the protests to be seen in the rest of the country.

Troubling for leadership

They appear more confident they can control the way the story is presented in China and abroad.

It is the violence against the Han Chinese which has been given most prominence in the official media.

Dealing with such protests is challenging, but not beyond the capabilities of a country with a security apparatus geared up to face demonstrations on a daily basis.

What is happening in Xinjiang is troubling for the leadership in Beijing, but this is a remote region several thousand kilometres from the nation's capital.

As long as it can be contained, the impact on the rest of the country is unlikely to be that significant.

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