China’s Urbanization Risk: Magnified Unrest
China’s new leaders seem to be placing their hopes for economic growth on urbanization. They see an upsurge in demand for a whole range of services – from housing to schooling and health care as the rural population is increasingly pulled into the urban economy. But high urbanization has its costs, argues a new report from Beijing Anbound Information, a private think tank that advises a number of local governments around China. Chief among those costs, the report says, is the magnification of social problems – and in a country with a considerable amount of social friction, that certainly is something to consider. Anbound contends that once urbanization reaches 50%, the potential for social unrest rises considerably.
China has already crossed that line, having reached 51.27% at the end of 2011, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. “An urbanization rate of 50% is correlated with rising social risks in urban areas,” Anbound said. “It is a significant level.” The study points to some interesting cases in other countries that illustrate how urbanization – along with a wide range of other social and political issues – led to more serious social unrest and, in some cases, much deeper instability.
Mexico, for example, saw a population shift in the 1960’s, with urbanization crossing 50% in that decade. In 1968, just days ahead of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, social and political pressures exploded with the killing of dozens students and other protesters unhappy with government policies. Anbound’s researchers also drew lessons from 1979 Iran — where angry crowds overthrew the pro-Western shah and fundamentally altered the development path of that country. At that time Iran’s urbanization rate was also around the 50% level, according to Beijing Anbound, which advises a number of local governments around China. In 2010, China was rocked by 180,000 protests, riots and other “mass incidents” — a term coined by the Chinese government to refer to protests and demonstrations. Those mass incidents were more than four times the tally from a decade earlier, according to Sun Liping, a professor at Tsinghua University. Land is always a ready source of conflict and urbanization aggravates existing tensions linked to development projects.
More than one-fifth of the mass incidents in 2012 were related to land disputes, according to the government-backed Legal Daily. The newspaper also says that the conflicts have been shifting towards the cities. While it gives no comparative figures, it says 51.1% of mass incidents involved urban residents in 2012. As rural residents flock to the cities in search of higher paying jobs, residents of the cities and migrants will have to share the same resources, including social welfare benefits.
That has the potential to create conflicts, Anbound said. It pointed to clashes with police in Zengcheng in Guangdong province in 2011 following a dispute between local authorities and street vendors who had moved to the town from rural Sichuan. Wang Lianmei, a villager from Sichuan, was injured during a struggle with local government officials, who accused her and her husband of blocking traffic, the Zengcheng government said in a statement posted on its website. Hundreds of people later clashed with local officials and police, the statement added.
A total of 19 suspects, most of them out-of-towners, were arrested for “obstructing justice, looking for trouble and sabotaging property,” the local government said a separate statement. Densely populated cities also lead to traffic congestion and greater pollution, and if the issues are not addressed, they too could plant the seeds of social instability, Anbound added. In January, Beijing was blanketed by toxic smog that air that captured headlines around the world. Netizens, fed up with the pollution, screamed for solutions and even the official media called for action from the government. “These potential risks could eventually turn into political issues,” the think tank said.
The White Stuff: Mining Giant Rio Tinto Unearths Unrest in Madagascar
For five days in January, a few hundred protesters armed with slingshots in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, blocked the road to one of the country’s largest economic assets, a $940 million mining operation run by the British-Australian company Rio Tinto.
Their grievances were local: high unemployment, alleged political corruption and unsatisfactory reimbursement for relocating homes to make room for the mine. But the protest’s effects were global, and relate to anyone who wants to brush their teeth, put on sunscreen or whitewash their house. Fort Dauphin could have supplied a tenth of the world’s ilmenite, a mineral used to make titanium dioxide, the white pigment commonly found in toothpaste, cosmetics and paint.
The product is a staple of household goods in the west and global demand is growing, especially in India and China. But three weeks after the Fort Dauphin standoff, which ended when the Malagasy military dispersed the crowd with teargas, Rio Tinto announced a major scale-back in Madagascar. The company is shelving plans for a second – and larger –mine nearby in St. Luce, which leaves only one of three planned sites in operation. The cuts mark a potential setback for Madagascar, where 70% of the population lives on less than $1 per day. The African nation has hydrocarbon deposits, gold, and half of the world’s sapphires, and the arrival of mining companies like Rio Tinto brought the prospect of improved economic conditions. But the protesters in Fort Dauphin say the mine exploited them, a charge the company denies.
Violence mars funeral of slain Tunisian opposition leader
Braving chilly rain, at least 50,000 people turned out to honor Belaid in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital, chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans. It was Tunisia’s biggest funeral since the death of Habib Bourguiba, independence leader and first president, in 2000.
Violence erupted near the cemetery as police fired teargas at demonstrators who threw stones and set cars ablaze. Police also used teargas against protesters near the Interior Ministry, a frequent flashpoint for clashes in the Tunisian capital. Tunisia, cradle of the Arab uprisings, is riven by tensions between dominant Islamists and their secular opponents, and by frustration at the lack of social and economic progress since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011.
Belaid’s assassination has shocked a country which had hitherto experienced a relatively peaceful political transition. “The people want a new revolution,” shouted mourners in Tunis, who also sang the national anthem. Crowds surged around an open army truck carrying Belaid’s coffin, draped in a red and white Tunisian flag, from a cultural center in Jebel al-Jaloud towards the leafy Jallaz cemetery, as a security forces helicopter flew overhead.
“Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle,” mourners chanted, holding portraits of the politician killed near his home on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle. Some demonstrators denounced Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party. “Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal,” they chanted. “Tunisia is free, terrorism out.” Police fired teargas to disperse anti-government protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs in the southern mining town of Gafsa, a stronghold of support for Belaid, witnesses said. Crowds there had chanted “The people want the fall of the regime”, a slogan first used against Ben Ali.
Colombian coal miners go on strike
BOGOTA — Colombian coal miners began an open-ended strike after wage talks collapsed with their employer, a company owned in part by Britain’s Anglo American and Australia’s BHP Billiton. Some 4,000 workers employed directly by Cerrejon, Colombia’s largest coal exporter, and another 7,000 subcontractors began the walkout, said union representative Igor Diaz Lopez.
Nepalese riot at hostel
KUALA LUMPUR: MORE than 1,000 Nepalese rioted at their hostel in Cheria Heights Apartment, Taman Bukit Cheras, here, on Wednesday night, smashing windows and throwing television sets out of the building. The workers were venting anger at their former employer, Flextronics Electronics (M) Sdn Bhd, which had allegedly gone back on its word to repatriate them by the end of last month. The workers were employed by the electronics giant at its factory in Klang in October last year, but were retrenched after two months. Some of the workers interviewed yesterday claimed they had only worked for two weeks.
Navin Thapa, 21, who came to the country in October, said they had worked for more than a month when they were made redundant on Nov 8. “On Jan 10, we were given two months’ salary as compensation and we have been waiting for them to send us back home,” he said, adding that they were supposed to have left by the end of last month. Thapa said that living conditions were getting tougher as cash was running low and many of them were getting restless. Another worker, who identified himself as Deepak, said: “We were fine with the temporary arrangements, but now things are taking too long.
“We have sent the bulk of our money home and we barely have anything left for ourselves.” In Wednesday’s incident, the workers broke windows at the apartment building and threw out television sets, damaging several parts of the roof and corridors. Other residents alerted police and the workers returned to their units at 3am. A Flextronics spokesman said the company was looking into the repatriation issue of its former employees. “We are working with the appropriate authorities, including the Immigration Department, to come to a solution.” He added that the company was doing everything within its power to ensure the safety of those living in the hostel.
East Darfur oilfield: 3 arrested, ‘thousands’ protest
Security services arrested three civilians on Wednesday who were demanding compensation for damages caused by the establishment of an oilfield in their home area. The detainees were representing their comunity of Shak Tayyib in Adila locality, East Darfur.
The arrests led “thousands” to stage a protest in the state’s capital, Ed Daein, demanding the immediate release of the prisoners, sources told Radio Dabanga. Shak Tayyib residents claim their lands were confiscated by the government “without their consent” because of the establishment of the oilfield Surga Ummhadit, inaugurated last December.
They also claim that oil residues are spreading around the area and damaging the water source and grazing of their cattle. Sources disclosed the security services arrested the men by requesting a meeting with them under the false pretenses of possibly starting negotiations about compensations. Mohamed Rohoda Ma’ala, Idriss Ahmed Abdel Karim, and another man whose name is still unknown, were taken to a prison in Adila, where the native administration and the commissioner intervened and released them on bail hours later.
Members of the security services arrested the men again and this time transferred them to their office in Ed Daein. This led thousands of people from Shak Tayyib and neighboring villages to stage a protest on Thursday in the state’s capital demanding the prisoner’s immediate release. East Darfur’s deputy traveled to Ed Daein and urged the crowd to halt the protest claiming he would release the prisoners. The demonstrators responded they wanted the three men freed and back to Shak Tayyib before putting an end to the rallies.