MAC/20: Mines and Communities

China Update: January 2006

Published by MAC on 2006-01-15


China Update: January 2006

by Richard McGregor in Beijing

19th January 2006

Public disorder and street action rise in China

Anti-social and mob violence in China rose sharply last year, according to official statistics released on Thursday by the Public Security Bureau, confirming anecdotal evidence of a growing willingness of citizens to take their grievances to the street.

“Public order disturbances” increased by 6.6 per cent to 87,000 in 2005 as a whole, but mob violence rose more quickly, by 13 per cent, the bureau said in an announcement posted on its website.

The bureau counts four different kinds of incidents under the overarching classification of “public order disturbances” but did not define them in any detail in Thursday’s release.

The figures on “disturbances” are consistent with a previous statement by Zhou Yongkang, the public security minister, who has said the number of “mass incidents”, or protests, rose by nearly 30 per cent in 2004 from 2003 to 74,000.

The cause of the upswings in protests range from illegal land grabs, local corruption, the closure of state-owned factories and damage to farming land from industrial pollution.

Many of the disputes centre on the failure of the government or factory owners taking over land for development to pay the previous occupants what they believe to be adequate compensation for their loss.

The protests so far show no sign of derailing China’s powerful economy, which has maintained strong growth for the past two years and continues to attract foreign investment.

In some respects the protests are a symptom of fast growth, as tens of thousands of people have had their lives disrupted by the spread of industry and commerce.

The upswing in the official numbers of anti-government protests and street violence may reflect not just a rise in grievances but a harder line by police against such things, scholars said on Thursday.

“In the past, China would allow many protests, such as laid-off workers blocking roads,” said He Weifeng, a law professor at Peking University.

“But after some large and violent protests broke out last year, the top-level leaders were deeply shocked and decided to take a tougher line.”

He said the main problem was not the protests but the lack of an institutional legal mechanism to resolve disputes.

China announced late last year a significant strengthening of the People’s Armed Police, a paramiltary group used to quell disturbances.

The PAP has also bolstered its firepower by acquiring what the local media calls “super-weapons” from Israel, advanced guns bought at Rmb120,000 a piece.

Wu Heping, a spokesman for the Public Security Ministry, blamed rising unrest on the “rapid economic and social development” in China in recent years.

“We hope the masses will express their appeals through lawful channels and consciously safeguard public order and respect laws to resolve problems in a harmonious and an orderly way,” he said.

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