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Monday, May 10, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK

World: Europe

China moves to control protests

Staff are trapped in embassy buildings

By Chinese Affairs Analyst James Miles

Kosovo: Special Report
The anti-Nato protests in China have involved the first major demonstrations targeted at the United States since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.

The leadership has praised the patriotism of participants, but the authorities appear to be stepping up efforts to ensure that the protests do not begin to turn against China's own government.

The Chinese leadership is clearly aware that the anti-Nato protests that have erupted in several cities could, if mishandled, backfire on the Chinese Government.

[ image: The mood of the protests is said to be less threatening than at the weekend]
The mood of the protests is said to be less threatening than at the weekend
In China, demonstrations inspired by nationalist sentiment have a history of taking on a broader political theme.

In the last two decades, the government has on several occasions tried to curb outbursts of anti-Japanese feeling because of concerns that political dissidents could try to redirect the public's anger towards the communist leadership.

There has been little sign so far that the protests outside Western diplomatic missions have been anything but expressions of outrage against the bombing of the Belgrade embassy.

But by stepping up efforts to control the demonstrations by allowing only those who register in advance to march past the embassies as well as increasing the police presence, the government is signalling that it does not want the protests to be hijacked by other disaffected groups.

One danger for the government is that demonstrators could start attacking Chinese leaders who they regard as too close to Washington.

President Jiang Zemin and the Prime Minister Zhu Rongji have been at the forefront of efforts in recent years to improve ties with the United States.

One possible impact of these protests is that Mr Zhu, who has been in charge of China's efforts to join the World Trade Organization, will take a tougher line on trade issues in order to avoid charges that he has been making concessions to Washington.

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