- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

BEIJING — China has responded to more than a week of surprising protests in Inner Mongolia with its well-honed strategy: deploy overwhelming force, keep potential protesters from gathering and pledge to address at least some grievances.

Protests that started early last week appear to be sputtering this week, with no confirmed demonstrations Wednesday.

A protest occcured Monday in the regional capital of Hohhot, though there were conflicting accounts on its size. A rights group said several hundred students protested Tuesday, but the account could not be confirmed.

Meanwhile, security remained high across cities and some towns in Inner Mongolia, a vast region of pasturelands and coal seams running across northern China bordering on Russia and the independent country of Mongolia.

High school and university students were largely confined to campuses to keep them from joining or leading protests for ethnic rights, as they did last week. Internet access was spotty at best, and text messages were often blocked, residents said.

Beijing’s approach has been refined in quelling protesting Tibetans and Turkic Muslim Uighurs, as well as in dealing with the tens of thousands of large-scale disturbances by people in the country’s Han Chinese majority.

Tactics are constantly revised to adapt to new challenges and technologies, and to reflect a growing realization that attacking some of the root causes of discontent - especially grievances about unpaid wages and other pocketbook issues - is the best way to maintain stability.

The government’s Xinhua News Agency reported that Inner Mongolia’s coal industry bureau ordered local safety inspectors Wednesday to make sure mines protected the environment and respected the welfare of local residents - key complaints of protesters.

“There’s a greater sense that protests happen for lots of different reasons,” said Beijing-based political analyst Russell Leigh Moses. “Authorities acknowledge you can have a balance between a clenched fist and an open hand.”

The tactics have defects. Squashing even peaceful protests may in some cases lead to violent outbursts.

In Tibet and Xinjiang, deadly rioting, looting and arson were preceded by mild demonstrations about civil and religious rights that were shut down by police.

Blocking the Internet, meanwhile, can increase fear and mistrust because it cuts off access to accurate information. Instead of restoring calm, “blocking the flow of information just encourages the spread of rumors and falsehoods. It is counterproductive,” the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The Communist Party leadership began searching for better, non-lethal ways to deal with protests after it unleashed the military on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The assault killed hundreds, alienated many people and pitched China into diplomatic isolation and economic malaise.

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