BEIJING - China faces no risk of succumbing to the kind of unrest that has rocked authoritarian governments across the Middle East, a senior Chinese official said, dismissing "Jasmine Revolution" calls as preposterous.
The comments from Zhao Qizheng, a former head of the Chinese government's information office, were Beijing's most senior public response so far to online messages urging protests in Chinese cities. The call drew small numbers of people at the weekend overwhelmed by swarms of police. .
"There won't be any Jasmine Revolution in China," Zhao said, according to a report on Thursday in the Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong-based newspaper under mainland Chinese control.
Protesters in Tunisia forced out long-time President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January in what supporters called a "Jasmine Revolution".
"The idea that a Jasmine Revolution could happen in China is extremely preposterous and unrealistic," Zhao told a group of reporters on Wednesday, said the paper.
Relatively few Chinese people are aware of the online calls for protests, which have circulated mostly on overseas websites blocked by the mainland government.
And authorities have also taken action to hinder dissemination of information. The Chinese words for "jasmine" and "jasmine revolution" have been blocked in searches of popular Chinese websites.
Zhao now heads the foreign affairs committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a body that advises the government but has no legislative powers.
But even fierce critics of the ruling Communist Party have said that for now it faces scant risk of the kinds of uprisings that unseated Egypt's long-time President Hosni Mubarak and are now besieging Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
China's rapid economic growth has diluted discontent about corruption and inequality. It has also enabled sharply higher funding for domestic security, arming police with sophisticated surveillance equipment and intimidating hardware.
But Beijing gets jittery about any signs of organised opposition to the Party.
Security officials have detained several activists critical of the government, including lawyers Teng Biao and Tang Jitian. The wife of a veteran dissident in southwestern Sichuan province said he had been detained at the weekend.
A former aide to late reformist Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang, who was purged shortly before the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989, said the country's leadership was behaving "like an ostrich" by sharply limiting media coverage of the Middle Eastern protests.
"It's almost as if the Arab world doesn't exist," the former aide, Bao Tong, wrote in a comment published by the website of Radio Free Asia (www.rfa.org), which is blocked in China.
"It's outrageous to strip 1.3 billion people of their right to know," said Bao, the most senior Chinese official jailed for sympathising with the 1989 protests. He now lives under close security scrutiny in Beijing.
The initial call for "Jasmine" protest gatherings in 13 Chinese cities last weekend appeared on a U.S.-based Chinese-language website, Boxun, and the site has issued a letter calling for such gatherings every weekend.
In his comments, Zhao Qizheng made dark warnings about the instigators of the demonstrations, whose identity is unclear.
"In a city of 15 million people, to have a few people standing around has no practical significance," said Zhao, apparently referring to Beijing.
"But we're also sure that there are a few people who hope that some kind of turmoil will break out in China."