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China unrest becoming commonplace

HONG KONG -- For Chinese officials, keeping the peace of late has been rather like the popular arcade game of “whack a mole.” After a protest is put down at one place, another pops up elsewhere.

In less than a month, between May 26 and June 11, Beijing has had to deal with four major incidents — suicide bombings of government buildings in Fuzhou and Tianjin, riots in Inner Mongolia and another outbreak of mass unrest in Zengcheng, Guangdong.

In the latest bout of unrest, riot police had to be called out in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, last week after clashes broke out over land compensation issues.

The riot in Zengcheng, a satellite town of affluent Guangzhou city, is noteworthy as it shows how easily a small chance event can set off a groundswell of resentment into open violence. All it took was news that a pregnant migrant worker had been knocked down during a raid on illegal hawkers. Rumors of her death brought out all the deep-seated antagonism of other migrant workers against government officials.

The riot was put down only after three days, by the combined might of more than 3,000 military policemen.

How did it come to this, that despite record-high government spending on internal security, China is still having to fight these brush fires of social unrest?

The answer may be found in an observation made in a Qinghua University report on social management last year — that the methods used to maintain stability tend to breed even greater instability.

A recent investigative report by two journalists from Caijing Magazine reached the same conclusion. According to the report, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has gone to great lengths to build a state machinery to contain social unrest.

At the apex is the Central Leading Group for Stability Preservation (CLGSP), headed by Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, one of the nine most powerful men in China.

The CLGSP works through the Central Political-Legal Committee, which in turn sets policy guidelines for the ministries for public and national security, the courts and the police. The CLGSP also runs a committee specializing in social management.

This cumbersome framework is replicated at the municipal and provincial levels.

At the grassroots level, a three-tier network is created in all counties. These comprise a county-level office that handles “difficult issues,” town-level offices that handle “major issues” and village-level offices that handle “minor issues.”

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