China's Inner Circle Reveals Big Unrest
mstainsby at tao.ca
Tue Jun 5 17:18:02 MDT 2001
The New York Times
June 3, 2001
China's Inner Circle Reveals Big Unrest
By Erik Eckholm
BEIJING - A startlingly frank new report from the Communist Party's inner
sanctum describes a spreading pattern of "collective protests and group
incidents" arising from economic, ethnic and religious conflicts in China
and says relations between party officials and the masses are "tense, with
conflicts on the rise."
The unusual report, produced by a top party research group and published
this week by a Central Committee press, describes mounting public anger
over inequality, corruption and official aloofness and it paints a picture
of seething unrest almost as bleak as any drawn by dissidents abroad. It
describes a growing pattern of large protests, sometimes involving tens of
thousands of people, and an incident in which a defiant farmer cut off a
tax collector's ear.
The report warns that the coming years of rapid change - driven in part by
China's plans to accelerate the opening of its markets to foreign trade and
investment - are likely to mean even greater social conflict. It makes
urgent but vague recommendations for "system reforms" that can reduce
"Our country's entry into the World Trade Organization may bring growing
dangers and pressures, and it can be predicted that in the ensuing period
the number of group incidents may jump, severely harming social stability
and even disturbing the smooth implementation of reform and opening up,"
states the report, "China Investigation Report 2000-2001: Studies of
Contradictions Among the People Under New Conditions."
The study was conducted by a research group of the Central Committee's
organization department, which runs crucial party affairs including
promotions, training and discipline. The department is headed by Zeng
Qinghong, a powerful and secretive adviser to the party chief, Jiang Zemin,
who is widely believed to be seeking higher office, and it appears to
represent an attempt by Mr. Zeng or other senior officials to set a
reform-oriented agenda for party deliberations and the leadership changes
expected in the next few years.
To make the study, researchers visited several provinces and worked with
other party scholars to review trends in 11 provinces. The 308-page report
cites growing social and economic inequality and official corruption as
over-arching sources of discontent. The income gap is approaching the
"alarm level," it says, with disparities widening between city and
countryside, between the fast-growing east coast and the stagnant interior,
and within urban populations. The report describes corruption as "the main
fuse exacerbating conflicts between officials and the masses."
Protests of all kinds have become more common as China changes from a
state-run economy - a risky course the leadership feels is necessary to
China's long-term growth - and as the public becomes more assertive about
Workers laid off from failing state enterprises have protested misuse of
company assets by managers and failure to pay pensions and living stipends.
Farmers angered by unbearable taxes and callous officials have had numerous
deadly encounters with the police.
The report, published by the party's Central Compilation and Translation
Press, was available for purchase on Friday at the press's office, where
buyers were trickling in based on word-of-mouth. But it has not yet been
widely publicized or sold in the country's bookstores.
The study was intended, its introduction says, to analyze the causes of
growing popular unrest and to propose countermeasures, and its findings
reflected special research in selected provinces.
Its somber analysis contrasts starkly with the upbeat messages generally
offered in official speeches and newspapers, and it is unclear why central
party officials broke with the tradition of suppressing sensitive information.
The book is at once a call for vigilance against threats to the social
order and a plea for speedy reforms within the party and government, such
as strengthening the legal system, reducing the number of local officials
and expanding "socialist democracy." It warns that economic development
must benefit the majority of people and that victims of change must be
fairly compensated, an implicit admission that this has often not happened.
At the same time, it attacks the notion that Marxism is obsolescent, calls
for more "ideological work" to inculcate an innovative spirit and aims to
buttress the party's continued monopoly on power through "system innovation."
Beyond stimulating discussion, the report could represent an effort by Mr.
Zeng or others to lay out their credentials as the Communist Party enters
an uncertain transition and chooses new leaders. Mr. Jiang, who is also
president, and other top leaders are expected to relinquish most of their
party and government posts over the next two years.
The report provides no estimate of the number of disturbances, but its
strong language suggests that the scale of demonstrations and riots has
been greater than revealed by the official press or in reports abroad.
While security agencies have not been able to prevent such incidents, they
have so far prevented disaffected workers and farmers in different regions
from linking up and forming networks that could pose an organized challenge
to Communist rule.
The government's response to unrest has been two-pronged: containment and
reform. In well-publicized speeches last year, President Jiang and others
described the need to "nip in the bud" any threats to social stability,
which in practice has meant stricter policing of dissenters and tighter
curbs on publishing.
This year, a national "strike-hard campaign" against crime has included a
jump in arrests and prison sentences for those accused of stirring ethnic
divisions in regions such as Xinjiang, the heavily Uighur Muslim province
in the west. Independent labor organizers have also been jailed.
This week, the commander of the People's Armed Police, the paramilitary
anti-riot force, told his troops that they must step up preparations to
control "sudden incidents" and improve coordination with local police forces.
"We must explore reform of weapons and equipment allocation, ensuring
sequential deployment and rapid response," said the commander, Wu
Shuangzhan, in a speech reported in The People's Armed Police News. Though
the country is generally stable, he said, "we must be crystal clear about
the stern developments we face in our work."
At same time, party leaders are pushing internal change. They have made
public spectacles of selected corrupt officials and are now requiring all
officials to study new ideological formulations, attributed to Mr. Jiang,
which are said to call for creative change while safeguarding party rule.
The government has started with much fanfare a program to increase
investment in neglected western and rural parts of the country and has
vowed, without saying how, to increase farm incomes.
The new report gives general prescriptions, such as adopting economic and
tax policies to reduce the income gap, improving social security for
workers and building "socialist democracy" in which people have more
control over their affairs.
"In recent years some areas have, because of poor handling and multiple
other reasons, experienced rising numbers of group incidents and their
scale has been expanding, frequently involving over a thousand or even ten
thousand people," it says.
And protests are becoming more confrontational, the report says.
"Protesters frequently seal off bridges and block roads, storm party and
government offices, coercing party committees and government and there are
even criminal acts such as attacking, trashing, looting and arson."
Among the specific incidents the report cites was one in Xinning County,
Hunan Province, where a resisting farmer cut off the ear of a township
party official trying to collect fees. In Longshan County, also in Hunan,
two officials died in a clash with protesters.
The groups participating in protests, the report says, "are expanding from
farmers and retired workers to include workers still on the job, individual
business owners, decommissioned soldiers and even officials, teachers and
The report adds that "hostile forces" at home and abroad, seeking to create
social turmoil, sometimes fan the divisions over ethnicity, religion and
The book's prediction of increased conflict as China enters the World Trade
Organization suggests the complex challenge to those hoping for more
democracy. Political liberals inside China, and many business leaders and
scholars abroad, say that growing trade, foreign investment and private
ownership and the spreading use of the Internet here will push China toward
free speech, rule of law and more accountable government. Just this week,
as President Bush endorsed renewal of normal trade status for China, he
said, "Open trade is a force for freedom in China, a force for stability in
Asia and a force for prosperity in the United States."
Officials fear that the predicted jump in unemployment and availability of
jobs independent of the state will lead more people to fight the system.
And, for the next few years at least, that could mean more, not fewer,
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