Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BEIJING | China’s communist government, showing concern that mounting protests in Iran could spark another “color” revolution in a close economic ally, has called for the disputed election results to be recognized and cautioned the United States and other Western powers not to meddle in Iran’s affairs.

The messages, relayed through China’s vast and tightly controlled state media, have glossed over reports of mass demonstrations and the deaths of protesters at the hands of Iranian security forces.

Such news and images, coming only weeks after the 20th anniversary of China’s violent crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square, could reopen delicate questions about political developments here and undermine Chinese relations with a key oil supplier and customer for Chinese goods.

News reports from the Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television and other state outlets have instead focused on accusations from Irans conservative leaders that the Western media are “stirring up unrest” in the wake of the June 12 presidential election. The reports also have echoed Iranian government assertions that the protesters are sore losers.

Global Times, a recently launched English-language newspaper run by the staunchly nationalistic Peoples Daily, published an editorial Monday condemning the Western media for being too quick to proclaim the election rigged.

“Even in democracies in the West, the losing side sometimes claims an election was unfair. This has even happened in the U.S,” the editorial said.

Last Thursday, an editorial in the state-owned English-language China Daily called on the international community “to leave Irans internal problems to the Iranian people and accept their verdict.

“Attempts to push the so-called color revolution toward chaos will prove very dangerous,” the editorial continued. Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi “refuses to accept defeat. Win and loss are two sides of an election coin. Some candidates are less inclined to accept defeat.”

China Daily pointed to a pre-election poll that showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ahead by a 2 to 1 margin.

The editorial urged President Obama to keep the pledge he made earlier this month in Cairo not to repeat Cold War-era mistakes in Iran, an apparent reference to Mr. Obama’s acknowledgment in his speech to the Muslim world that the CIA helped overthrow an elected Iranian prime minister in 1953. The coup reinstalled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was in turn toppled by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Chinese media have reported on the bloody protests — the most violent in Iran in 30 years — but often as an afterthought.

Qiao Mu, director of the Center for International Communications Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the coverage reflected a longstanding government allergy to popular protests that are seen as inherently destabilizing.

“In China the government is afraid of any kind of protest,” he said. “They are afraid of instability. … So the media has focused on the election results, not the protests.”

Mr. Qiao said China’s ruling Communist Party is concerned that the U.S. and other Western countries might intervene in Iran and cause the government to topple, echoing the “orange revolution” in Ukraine, the “rose revolution” in Georgia and other Western-backed examples of people power.

“In recent years, the Chinese government has been very worried about the so-called color revolution. I think they are watching the developing situation [in Iran] closely,” Mr. Qiao said.

Chinese officials have said little about the crisis in Iran, other than to say the results should stand.

“China respects the choice of the Iranian people and hopes Iran can maintain stability and solidarity,” Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters as anti-government demonstrations reached a peak last week.

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