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Chinas Inner Circle Unrest*

June 3, 2001

China's Inner Circle Reveals Big Unrest


EIJING, June 2 — 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 public grievances.

"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 rights.

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.

(Original Len: 6686 Condensed Len: 7015)

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