Although freedoms in China have long ebbed and flowed, there are elements of the current campaign that suggest it is more than just another tightening of the screw ahead of the transition to a new leadership in 2012, as Mr Hu and his premier, Wen Jiabao, step down.
First, there is the scope of the clampdown: lawyers, academics, journalists, bloggers, artists, even individuals who have posted seditious messages on Twitter or its equivalents, have all been targeted. Second, there is the re-emergence of the catch-all subversion charges that make it a crime to challenge the state. Third, there is the willingness to take on high-profile figures, such as Ai Weiwei, who were previously tolerated. And fourth, and perhaps most worryingly, there is the cold threat of violence.
China's leaders have always reacted violently to existential threats – the suppression of the Tiananmen uprising, the torture of members of the Falun Gong movement, the routine brutality towards Tibetan activists. And now it appears as if any elements of civil society that could galvanise Middle East-style protests are being treated as similar threats, too.
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