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China tightens control to maintain order

Expenditure on security now bigger than defense

China tightens control to maintain order
Ching Cheong (far right) and Willy Lam Wo-lap (second left) at the seminar reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

March 21, 2012

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Political commentators believe more money spent on maintaining stability makes reforms difficult in China. Its "unique social structure hardly poses a real threat to the Communist regime,” according to one of them, Ching Cheong. However, a wave of social unrest across the country has prompted the government to drastically increase spending on national public security with a budget that exceeds expenditure on national defense. It is the first time this has happened since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, said Willy Lam Wo-lap, a journalist turned commentator on Chinese politics. This year’s budget for maintaining order is more than 700 billion yuan (US$110 billion) and was announced during the recent plenary meeting of the National People’s Congress, or China’s parliament. The number of police officers has also increased remarkably in recent years. In 2011, there were about 2 million police officers nationwide, equal to the size of China’s army. Behind them, are those with vested interests forming a conservative counter-force to reforms, he pointed out. Local officials tend to exaggerate the gravity of social instability and link violent protests with the “infiltration of Western powers” in order to demand more funds from the central government, he said. Then they spend the money on recruiting policemen and agents, buying weapons and equipment to turn the country into a police state, especially in unstable border areas. “In Urumqi, capital of the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, one in every two taxi drivers is a part-time agent, who report on their passengers to the government if they look suspicious,” said Lam, quoting a reliable source. “The unlimited expansion of a control network is a gross obstacle to China’s long-term democratic development,” he warned. The government in Beijing will spend even more money on maintaining internal stability after the change in the Communist leadership later this year, he predicted in a Church-organized seminar on March 18. Lam was among three veteran journalists invited by the Hong Kong Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) to share their views at the first of three seminars themed on the current situation in China. Another speaker, Ching Cheong, said an average of 500 mass protests took place each day last year, where people tried to defend their land rights, the environment, and fought against corruption. This amounted to around 182,500 protests for the whole year, which is three times more than 10 years ago, he said. Despite the scale of social unrest, Ching believes the Communist regime is not under serious threat because of China’s “unique” social structure in which the huge rural population has a “poor awareness” when it comes to revolt. Ching said that in a recent protest in Wukan, in southern Guangdong province, villagers’ slogans called for central government to punish corrupt officials rather than resist the regime itself. Related reports New protest escalates over power plant Official says Wukan protests show rights demands on rise Don’t push people to extremes    
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