Even as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership pulls out all the stops to
resuscitate the economy, it is grappling with the even more daunting task of
maintaining social stability. Apart from familiar issues such as rising
unemployment, the administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao
is bracing itself for a number of sensitive anniversaries this year: the 50th
anniversary of the Tibet insurrection on March 10; the 20th anniversary of the
Tiananmen Square crackdown; and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the
People’s Republic on October 1.
For reasons including sending a warning to potential and real "troublemakers",
Beijing has publicized at least part of its
evaluation of the law-and-order situation, along with a mixture of both tough
and conciliatory measures to keep the forces of chaos at bay.
For the past month or so, cadres in the two top-most organs in charge of
internal security - the CCP Central Commission on Political and Legal Affairs
(CCPLA) and its sister unit, the Central Office for the Comprehensive
Administration of Law and Order (COCALO) - have held marathon sessions on how
to nip socio-political instability in the bud.
The COCALO, which coordinates the activities of the police, state security
agents and judicial departments, has admitted that Beijing faces unprecedented
challenges in safeguarding stability, deemed the party’s "overriding task".
COCALO director Chen Jiping indicated that the year 2009 would witness "an
increase in social risks and the doubling of contradictions even as the
law-and-order scenario becomes more severe and complex".
The situation has been made worse by the financial crisis. Chen noted that new
contradictions caused by economic doldrums had exacerbated long standing ills.
"Contradictions in the economic arena have interacted with contradictions in
other arenas," he pointed out. Moreover, various interest groups had become
more vociferous in clamoring for their rights.
"Feelings of dissatisfaction toward society have grown," Chen said, adding that
unnamed groupings - presumably including chronically unemployed peasants and
ethnic-minority elements with grievances against Beijing, might use
"excessively forceful means" to try to get what they want.
In a recently published speech on the law-and-order front, CCPLA secretary Zhou
Yongkang called upon the police, procuratorates and courts to acquit themselves
well of the "holy task" of ensuring national security and stability. Zhou, who
is also a Politburo Standing Committee member, recommended "a synthesis of
methods to combat and to prevent instability … We must boost [abilities] to
handle emergencies and strengthen professional units so as to counter terrorism
and to prevent the occurrence of violent and terrorist incidents." Zhou also
stressed the "early resolution of various types of social contradictions".
Foremost among the multi-pronged tactics that Zhou, Chen and other leaders have
come up with is neutralizing conflicts that are engendered purely by economic
factors, particularly unemployment. While the Ministry of Human Resources
indicated that the urban jobless rate stood at a mere 4.2% at the end of 2008,
other Beijing-based experts have pointed out that the real figure for late last
year was 9.4% - and that this could go up to 11% by mid-2009.
COCALO officials say that they are particularly worried about the job prospects
for migrant workers - the 6 million or so students who will graduate from
college this year, as well as tens of thousands of demobilized soldiers. While
attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, Premier Wen
expressed confidence in achieving an 8% growth rate for 2009.
It is commonly assumed among official economists that a 7% growth rate will
translate into 25 million to 30 million new jobs a year, which should be
sufficient to stave off massive chaos. Before the economy picks up speed,
however, the authorities are taking urgent steps to alleviate the pangs of
The State Council has leaned heavily on both state-controlled and private
enterprises to make pledges that they will not lay off workers in the coming
year. A late January report by the Xinhua News Agency said that numerous
enterprises along the coast had made promises of either "not cutting staff", or
"sacking as few employees as possible".
According to Wang Guoping, party secretary of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province,
businessmen must act with social responsibility. "Enterprises must not only be
‘economic legal persons’," Wang said, but "they must also be ‘enterprise
citizens’ and the blood of morality should course through the veins of
Officials and economists have given conflicting estimates of how large a
proportion of China’s 150 million-odd migrant laborers have been laid off in
urban factories. Chen Xiwen, director of the Office of the Central Leading
Group on Rural Work, admitted early this month that some 20 million rural
workers had lost their jobs due to the financial crisis. (See
China's tide of migrant labor turns, Asia Times Online, Feb 5, 2009)
His figure was double that given by the State Council just a few weeks earlier.
In any event, several inland provinces including Sichuan and Jiangxi are giving
special livelihood subsidies to jobless laborers who have returned to their
birthplaces upon the closure of coastal enterprises.
Beijing is also putting emphasis on repairing the much strained ties between
the populace and the government. The official Outlook Weekly reported last week
that party authorities had asked all departments and regional administrations
to "standardize and institutionalize" ways and means to boost communication
with the masses and to receive their petitions.
Particular stress is being laid on buttressing the image of public security
officers who are often perceived as repressive and corrupt. Deputy Minister of
Public Security Yang Huanning pointed out last month that "we must ceaselessly
push forward the construction of harmonious relations between the police and
Earlier, Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu asked police to do their work in
accordance with "rational, peaceful, civilized and well-regulated norms". He
called upon officers to "standardize their words and actions in the course of
law enforcement, and to avoid being rash and emotional in the face of
provocation and [other] complicated situations".
Meanwhile, the Hu-Wen leadership is brandishing so-called "tools of proletarian
dictatorship" against disgruntled elements that might employ violent means -
including quasi-terrorist tactics to undermine stability. While officiating at
a New Year ceremony at the headquarters of the People’s Armed Police (PAP),
president and commander-in-chief Hu called upon the paramilitary force to
"engage in comprehensive military training, step up patrols, and boost their
capability in handling emergency situations and combating terrorism".
Hu demanded that PAP officers do their utmost in "safeguarding national
security and maintaining harmony and stability in society". Moreover, the
Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has vowed to play its part in upholding law and
order, through means including meting out speedy and heavy sentences to
hardcore criminals and state enemies. SPC president Wang Shengjun, a former
CCPLA secretary general, urged all judicial cadres to "follow a firm and
correct political orientation [while] promoting social stability and harmony".
Prime targets of the Ministry of Public Security, the PAP and the courts are
separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang, who, Beijing believes, are colluding with
"anti-Chinese elements from abroad" to foment discontent and chaos in society.
Since mid-January, police and PAP officers have raided thousands of homes and
offices and detained more than 80 suspects in a "Strike Hard" (yan da)
campaign in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Western diplomats in Beijing have reported that since talks with the Dalai Lama
broke down last winter, the authorities have taken ironfisted measures to
pre-empt protests that might erupt in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the
Tibetan insurrection. In March and April last year, tens of thousands of
Tibetans held dozens of demonstrations not only in Tibet, but also in four
neighboring provinces to call the world’s attention to Beijing’s alleged
attempts to stifle Tibetan culture and religion.
Relatively little information has come out of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region
(XAR), where a "Strike Hard" movement has also been launched since early
January against dissidents, separatists and other underground groupings. This
is a continuation of the crackdown by police and PAP officers since the spring
of 2008. As of the end of last year, some 1,300 suspects had been arrested for
alleged acts of terrorism and violations of state-security laws.
The official media last month quoted the chairman of the XAR Nur Bekri as
saying that "fighting the three forces (of terrorism, separatism and religious
extremism) is an acute, complicated and long-lasting task". Threats must be
"nipped in the bud and violent terrorist activities pre-empted", Bekri warned.
Equally nettlesome for the authorities are efforts by intellectuals and other
"bourgeois-liberal" elements to clamor for political liberalization to coincide
with the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre. Despite the detention
of big name dissidents and other acts of intimidation by state-security
personnel, more Chinese have put down their names on the Internet in support of
the pro-democracy Charter 08 Movement.
Moreover, a few dozen overseas-based dissidents led by Wang Dan, the
charismatic student leader of the 1989 demonstrations, are stepping up pressure
on Beijing to allow them to return to China. Their campaign, entitled "we want
to go home" (wo men yao hui jia), called on CCP authorities to observe
universal human rights norms and the goals of a "harmonious society", which
were raised by the Hu-Wen leadership in 2004. Activist Christian minister Zhu
Yaoming of Hong Kong, who is aiding the overseas dissidents, said Beijing
should "let these Chinese citizens return home without prior conditions" such
as writing documents of contrition.
Assuming that the forces of discord can be minimized, the Hu-Wen team may be
able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic
in style. Yet the gargantuan military parade planned for October 1 has itself
become a subject of controversy. Numerous postings on China’s online chat rooms
have opposed the extravaganza on grounds ranging from wastefulness to the fact
that the show of force may stoke the "China threat" theory. This is despite
assurances by military authorities that the proposed budget, around 300 million
yuan (US$43.9 million), is much less than that incurred by the 1999 parade.
It seems apparent then, that while tough tactics employed by the CCP leadership
have failed to cow disaffected and recalcitrant elements, conciliatory gestures
have yet to produce the desired effect of enhancing trust and harmony. A
massive outbreak of disorder could not only take the halo off Beijing’s
much-ballyhooed "China model" but also pose a frontal threat to the CCP’s
"perennial ruling party" status.
Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation. He is
the author of five books on China, including the recently published Chinese
Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges.