程翔:China acts to defuse 'crisis year'

China acts to defuse 'crisis year'
By Ching Cheong, Senior Writer
The Straits Times

THE Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knows it is in for what can be deemed a 'crisis year'.

The 2009 calendar for China is filled with a string of political anniversaries, some not exactly celebratory and likely to spark social unrest.

This politically sensitive year is also a period of economic uncertainty for China, which is feeling the effects of the financial turmoil sweeping the globe. To make things worse, northern China is suffering its worst drought in six decades.

Signalling its resolve to overcome the crises this year, the CCP has instructed its members to ensure economic growth, the people's livelihood and social stability. Called 'the three guarantees', these are found in the 2009 Number 3 Document issued earlier this year.

In another sign of its nervousness about the possible threat to political stability, the party, according to a source, also set up the '6521 Group' recently. The numbers refer to the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and 10th anniversary of the crackdown on the Falungong movement.

Separately, a top coordinating body on social order headed by Politburo member Zhou Yongkang has issued a notice detailing 33 measures that every level of government must take to protect public order.

Called the Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Social Order (CCCMSO), it identified three sets of threats.

Political threats: These span 'animus forces' at home and abroad, ethnic separatism, terrorism, religious extremism, the Falungong, as well as Tibetan insurgency.

Economic threats: These include 'highly dangerous mob events' triggered by land grabs, massive urban and rural unemployment, labour disputes and public discontent over the sale of fake or unsafe goods.

Social threats: These refer to criminal offences - robberies, drug trafficking and organised crime - which are expected to peak this year. They also include illicit installation of satellite receivers and illicit publishing work.

The 33 measures provide for a system of societal control to be activated when the need arises.

For example, the document urges the authorities to keep tight surveillance on Tibet, which is just days away from the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising which led to the Dalai Lama's flight into exile. March also marks a year after the region witnessed some of the worst rioting in recent decades.

This social order committee also wants special attention paid to rail security and universities, a sign of the CCP's concern that railways could become terrorist targets and that campuses could morph into hotbeds of student activism.

Indeed, Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun in a separate report spoke of closer monitoring of the Qinghai-Tibetan Railway, which connects the Tibetan region with the interior. It is interesting to note that border areas between provinces and rural-urban transition areas would be given special attention.

This is presumably because of the CCP's own past experience. All its strongholds before it came to power in 1949 were located in areas bordering two or more provinces because these tended to be weakly administered.

As to information flow, the authorities are to apply 'orderly and effective control' over the Net and online communities.

Noteworthy too is how the official Xinhua news agency last month surrendered its power of deciding which foreign agency news could be transmitted in China. That authority went to the State Council Information Office.

The activities of all non-government organisations, whether domestic or foreign, as well as new social and economic organisations, are to be closely monitored.

To augment the government's surveillance capability and hold on law and order, traditional militia forces in urban and rural areas, which had been dormant in recent years, have been revitalised.

Similarly, part-time voluntary neighbourhood security watchdogs, a typical feature of Maoist China, will be reactivated. A network of informants will be deployed to keep an eye on schools, neighbourhoods and major public areas.

Here, the CCCMSO is taking a leaf from the experience of last year's Olympic Games, which deployed hundreds of thousands of volunteers to ensure things ran smoothly. By employing a similar network, the committee hopes that the volunteers, or informants, will help identify security blind spots so that preventive measures can be taken. But such a method goes against respect for human rights.

A joint-responsibility system for public security will be put in place. Under such a system, the heads of families and work units would be responsible jointly for defusing conflicts and preventing their escalation.

The same responsibility system applies to regional and local heads of governments. Under a 'one strike, you're out' system, an official will be sacked as long as one incident of disorder breaks out within his jurisdiction.

Helping to enforce the controls will be the regular military force, which the CCP has described as 'the pillar of proletariat dictatorship'. Under the Constitution, the military is required to 'strengthen national defence, resist invasion and protect the motherland'.

To borrow from an oft-quoted line: when the going gets tough, China's communist leaders get tougher - to ride out a stormy 2009.



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