BRITISH anarchists - veterans of protests ranging from Seattle to Gothenburg and Genoa - are refusing to demonstrate at an economic summit of world leaders in China next month because they fear being shot or imprisoned.
Despite causing havoc at economic summits around the world over the past two years, the anti-globalization organizations have decided not to attempt to disrupt the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum to be attended by President George Bush and other leaders, in Shanghai in October.
One British anarchist website seen by The Telegraph advises potential protesters not to attempt to travel to Shanghai. "The Chinese government has shot dead democracy protesters in the past, it would be dangerous to attempt any demonstration," the site says.
A British anarchist who has attended demonstrations by the moderate Reclaim the Streets group and the more radical "Wombles" (so-called because they wear protective white overalls), who target the police, said: "We have to be realistic. It would be impossible to get into China openly as a demonstrator and even if you did you would run the risk of years in jail or even being shot."
The contrast between preparations for demonstrations at a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Brisbane, Australia, on October 6-9 and the lack of preparation for violence in Shanghai on October 17-20 has caused Australian security officials to point to the hypocrisy of the anarchist groups.
Even experienced protesters with a cause specific to China, such as pro-Tibet groups, have shied away from baiting the forces of the Communist state. Alison Reynolds, of the London-based Tibet Information Network, said: "I think people, quite understandably, feel daunted by the prospect of protesting in China and what might happen."
A veteran at upstaging Chinese delegations, Ms Reynolds hopes that behind-the-scenes lobbying will persuade President Bush to prove himself an ally of Tibet by securing the release of Chandrel Rinpoche, 62, a jailed monk.
Mr Bush will visit China for the first time since taking office to attend next month's APEC forum, an annual gathering of Asian and American presidents and prime ministers. Other guests, including John Howard of Australia and Helen Clark of New Zealand, will arrive in Shanghai fresh from what is expected to be a chaotic Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Brisbane.
Brisbane will deploy 1,600 police backed by Blackhawk helicopters to prevent as many as 25,000 demonstrators disrupting the summit to be opened by the Queen on October 6.
Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia and a long-time critic of Western liberal democracy, has been loudly predicting that the Australian police will inflict unnecessary violence on the mobs. He is refusing to travel to Brisbane because of the potential for protests, but he will attend the APEC gathering.
"They are going to beat up any demonstrators. Just wait and see when they have a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Australia," Dr Mahathir said. "I expect there will be demonstrations and there will be violence and police brutality."
Critics of the anarchists say they are targeting the wrong summit because they are frightened of the Chinese police. The Shanghai forum brings together America, China and the industrial economies of the Pacific rim, while most of the nations meeting in Brisbane are backward states incapable of expanding their share of global trade.
Another factor against anarchists going to Shanghai is that they would get little sympathy from the local population. Though many residents of Shanghai have suffered greatly from the emergence of unemployment and corruption since the city opened up to the West, anti-globalization protesters would not be welcome.
The city is a monument to the spread of capitalism. Two hundred years ago it was an insignificant township. When British and American traders settled there, they turned Shanghai into the Far East's finest city with hundreds of the most impressive skyscrapers of the early 20th century.
After four decades of Communist isolation, Shanghai was re-opened to the world in 1990. Since then the forces of international capital have again been co-opted to transform the city's skyline into the most stunning in all China.
While there is no threat from marauding mobs, the local police still intend to impose a tight cordon sanitaire around the summit site.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2001