Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 8 News List

China fears a Soviet-type implosion

By Sushil Seth

China's rulers are nervous. The increased level of repression in the country reflects this: There are reports of all kinds of people being put behind bars or being simply picked up by the authorities for salutary beatings. And many of them do not even challenge the regime but are guilty of simply going about their business as lawyers, journalists and other professionals.

The government has further tightened media control by putting new restrictions on foreign news agencies by subjecting their news reports to prior approval from the Xinhua news agency. The government has also put in place a punitive system of fines for media if they report disasters and protests without permission.

The authorities have launched an investigation of charity organizations and environmental bodies that have even a whiff of foreign funding.

In a relatively mild criticism of increased official repression, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders said that: "Some activists have disappeared. Several have been subjected to unfair trials or harsh sentences in local Chinese courts."

Some of those on the receiving end of this crackdown include blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), sentenced to four years' jail ostensibly for causing traffic obstruction, New York Times journalist Zhao Yan (趙岩) for three years and Straits Times correspondent Ching Cheong (程翔) for five years.

China's rulers are becoming increasingly paranoid that there are internal and external forces seeking to destabilize the country and overthrow the regime. Inside the country, they have apparently been shaken by an increasing number of protests and demonstrations over a whole host of issues. According to official statistics, there were 87,000 "public order disturbances" last year, up 6.6 percent from 2004. The real figure could be much worse.

DISORGANIZED

Much of the time these are spontaneous protests, without any organizational design behind them. They mostly arise from local grievances like rural land seizures, party corruption, local taxes and so on. But they do have a common theme of frustration and anger over the arbitrary and corrupt behavior of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elites.

The situation is much worse in rural areas, as Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) admitted recently.

"Some locales are unlawfully occupying farmers' land and not offering reasonable economic compensation and arrangements for livelihoods, and this is sparking mass incidents in the countryside," he said in a recent speech.

"We absolutely cannot commit a historical error over land problems," he continued, apparently referring to China's history of peasant uprisings.

By and large, local people do not seem to blame the central leadership for the excesses of their local bosses, believing that they are simply not aware of the rot that has set in at the local levels. Wen's speech, though, would suggest that the central leadership is fully aware, but is not doing much about it. Some have even gone to Beijing to petition the authorities for corrective action, but have ended up in trouble for their boldness.

HELPLESSNESS

It would be fair to say that local frustrations are gradually building up to the extent that they threaten to pollute the entire system. There is a growing sense of helplessness all around at a state of affairs where ordinary citizens (without the connections and money to bribe) have no political or social recourse.

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