The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pulling out all the stops to prevent a Chinese-style ‘Jasmine Revolution’.
Dissidents, energised by the success of the public revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, used the Internet to mobilise peaceful demonstrations in a dozen major Chinese cities on Sunday (February 20). On Wednesday (23 February 2011), they called for these protests to continue.
At a meeting of top officials held on the eve of the rallies, Chinese President Hu Jintao urged tighter control of cyberspace and “specific groups of people”, a term used to refer to dissidents, rights defenders and the disenfranchised.
Provincial heads, ministry chiefs and senior military officials were summoned to attend the meeting, according to the official Xinhua news agency. All nine members of the powerful CCP Politburo Standing Committee, which includes Hu, were present.
Hu made it clear that the session was meant to unify the minds of senior CCP cadres in the light of the “new changes in domestic and foreign situations”, an oblique reference to the upheavals in the Arab world and their repercussions on China.
He stressed that social management must be strengthened in order to ensure the CCP stays in power.
Hu defined social management, for the first time, as “managing the people as well as serving them”. Traditional communist-speak usually mentions only “serving the people”.
According to Hu, the overall objective of social management is to “maximise harmonious factors and minimise non-harmonious ones”.
He outlined several ways in which this could be achieved, including:
— Strengthening control of Internet-transmitted information and management of cyberspace, and improving guidance of public opinion over the Internet.
— Strengthening management of the migrant population and specific groups of people, and keeping data on them at the national level.
— Strengthening control of non-public economic and social entities.
— Nipping social unrest in the bud.
Zhou Yongkang, the Politburo member in charge of national and public security, echoed Hu and called on Sunday for service to and management of the people to be integrated. He announced that:
— A national database containing basic information on the country’s population, which covers the specific groups Hu mentioned, will be set up.
— For cyberspace, a comprehensive management structure with strong party leadership and strict enforcement by the government will be installed. For foreign non-governmental organisations in China, an unspecified dual system of supervision will be established.
— An early warning system will be put in place to alert the authorities to social grievances, so as to allow them to defuse problems before they deteriorate into outright social unrest.
In other words, the five-tier social monitoring network — an ad hoc system created in 2008 to ensure security during the Olympic Games and the subsequent Shanghai Expo — would become a permanent mechanism.
According to Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, this multi-tier network includes: Camera surveillance in public areas, regular police patrols on the streets, Internet surveillance, mutual monitoring by peers in the workplace and monitoring by neighbourhood committees.
What Hu did not mention in his speech was how the government will address the root causes of social unrest.
Most scholars agree that a one-party system typically produces corruption of power, which in turn contributes to gross income disparity.
It also leads to the unfettered exercise of power by officials, leading to people’s rights being jeopardised, as evidenced by massive land grabs, where farmers are evicted from their land in the name of development.
Hu himself attributed the growing unrest to the “inability of the socialist system in its initial stage to produce sufficient wealth to cope with the increasing aspirations of the people”.
But in response to this situation, he is merely devising new ways to maintain social stability and is not tackling the root causes of instability.
Hu’s speech last Saturday (19 February 2011) was preceded by the order he issued to the military on 10 February 2011 to be prepared for contingencies.
Party cells within the military were instructed to study a document entitled Regulation Governing the Works of the Party Committees in the Military. This regulation, according to an explanatory note, is meant to strengthen the party control over the military.
“Each of all the 33 articles in the regulation centred on ensuring the absolute control of the party over the military,” said the note.
It reminded the military that all its members owe their allegiance first and foremost to the party, and then to socialism, the state and the people.
In urging the military to study the regulation, Hu showed that as China’s commander-in-chief, he was not about to take any chances with any potential Arab world-inspired unrest in his country. And if circumstances so required, he would send in the military.
All these precautionary measures show that the CCP is taking the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ seriously.