Yet Another Crackdown In China

Can someone tell me what is going on?

From Jim Yardley at the New York Times:

The Chinese government has warned citizens that they must obey the law and that any threats to social stability will not be tolerated, a sign that top leaders are growing increasingly worried about unrest in the countryside.  The warning came in a front-page commentary published last Thursday in People's Daily, the chief mouthpiece of the Communist Party.  "Protecting stability comes before all else," it cautioned. "Any behavior that wrecks stability and challenges the law will directly damage the people's fundamental interests."

The editorial was also notable in what was omitted, namely any reference to President Hu Jintao's signature catchphrase, "harmonious society." Implicit in that phrase is the idea that the lopsided excesses and widespread corruption of rapid development must be corrected.  But the editorial said widening inequality was an inevitable phase of development. "It is unavoidable that different people and different groups enjoy the fruits of reform and development to differing degrees," it said.

Here is the trick: Who are they warning here?  Clearly, anyone who wrecks stability.  Who is wrecking stability?  That is the big question.  If you are a westerner, your guess must immediately that they are warning all potential rioters, right?

Okay, next, I read the following release from Xinhua's Hangzhou office on July 27 (via Xici Hutong).  These warnings are stated in no uncertain terms and there is no way to misread them.

[in translation]

The Zhejiang province Communist Party Committee issued the "Practical Regulations on Monitoring by Public Opinion" and encourages news media organization to follow the law to implement monitoring by public opinion in order to protect social harmony and stability.  All government departments are clearly informed that they must not interfere with monitoring by public opinion in any way, shape or form.

The regulations states that if the government units or individuals who are the subject of monitoring by public opinion should

- "black out information, conceal facts or deliberately evade or refuse to be monitored by public opinion"
- "use bribery or persuasion to interfere with the monitoring by public opinion"
- "work against media workers either by confiscating their identifications and equipment, deprive them of their personal physical freedom, or threaten their personal safety"
- "retaliate against informants, reporters and editors who work to monitor by public opinion"

then the approrpiate departments will sanction these individuals with criticisms, job reports, organizational actions or disciplinary punishments; and those who are found to be breaking the law will be referred to the law enforcement departments.

These regulations are one part of the ten systems of regulations from the Zhejiang province Communist Party Commitee.  These regulations clarify that monitoring by public opinion directs attention to five important areas: activities that break laws and disciplines; practical results of the implementation of party and government policies; activities that violate government and party disciplines; activities that damage the legitimate interests of the masses; social ills, immoral acts and undesirable behavior.

Sure, this is a warning against those who destabilize society or otherwise disrupt the harmony.  But it is the local officials who are also being put on notice.  If there should be another public mass incident and if it should turn out that this was a longstanding, festering problem about citizen rights, then they are the ones who have the most to lose.  It also makes media blackouts illegal as well.

But, of course, it boils down to whether the government means what it says.  The Constitution of the People's Republic of China also has many nice things too, but they seem to be missing in action in real life.