China's cyber police accuse foreign forces of stoking protests after Chengdu student's death

A handout photo. The plight of the mother of a 17-year-old student who died at a school in Chengdu last week, sparked outrage and inspired protesters who called on authorities to be more transparent.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

China’s cyber police have accused “foreign hostile forces” of stoking protests after the suspected suicide of a 17-year-old student in the country’s southwest, warning Chinese internet users to stay away from such “attempts at colour revolution”.

The stark warning came as Beijing’s top law enforcement officials ordered China’s security apparatus to stay alert for potential acts of terrorism, to combat gangs and organised crime and to stamp out any form of popular uprising, with less than 50 days until the Chinese Communist Party  centenary.

In a statement late on Sunday, the cyber police department in Sichuan province accused “hostile forces at home and abroad” of interference in the aftermath of Lin Weiqi’s death at Chengdu No 49 Middle School last week.

The child’s mother raised doubts about the results of the initial investigation into the death, setting off a public opinion storm. Dozens of people gathered outside the school’s entrance demanding an explanation from police.

Without offering evidence, the province’s cyber police said “interference from hostile forces at home and abroad [were present this time], just like the Taifu incident”.

The reference was to a public outcry generated by a similar case in April 2017 in Sichuan’s Taifu township.

While acknowledging the “mishandling by the local government” in the 2017 case, it accused New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV), a broadcaster funded by Falun Gong – a group banned by Beijing since 1999 as an “evil cult” – and US-funded broadcaster Voice of America of stoking rumours online about the incident.

The cyber police promised to clarify “various rumours created by foreign hostile forces” in the Chengdu soon and asked Chinese netizens to “stay tuned”.

In a separate Weibo post last Wednesday, when dozens of people protested in front of the school chanting “truth! truth!”, the Sichuan cyber police said it would not allow a colour revolution to occur in China, insinuating the protest was an attempt to start a similar movement.

“We will never allow hostile forces to undermine the security and stability of the country and the peaceful life of the people. We will never allow colour revolutions to occur on this land,” it said. “Anyone who wants to give it a try will be hit head on!”

Last month, during a meeting on security preparation ahead of the July 1 party celebration , State Councillor and Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi gave strict orders to police to crack down on any “disruptive and sabotage activities by hostile forces at home and abroad”, to combat online rumours and “harmful information”, and to fight against “terrorism and separatism”.

Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said while China was becoming increasingly paranoid over “external interference”, local officials could use the accusation as a convenient means to avoid being held accountable for their own mishandlings and slow responses.

“The practice of using ‘colour revolution’ as an excuse to fend off accountability of local government has become like a protocol since 2008, not to mention that such outcry happened during the tense period ahead of party’s 100th anniversary in July,” Wu said.

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“It is clear that the local authorities’ handling is very poor. Even the official media weighed in to criticise the slow response and lack of details in their initial investigation reports, which caused the outpouring of people’s sympathy to the mother looking for transparency.”

Wu said “such a paranoid mindset” was expected to continue until at least October 2022 when “the CCP convenes its critical national congress”, deciding the next leadership reshuffle.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.