Well-Oiled Security Apparatus in China Stifles Calls for Change

The New York Times reports on the Chinese security apparatus that cracks down on activists and dissidents, and the relationship between Beijing and the provincial governments that carry out the orders locally:

Despite persistent calls for political reform among the country’s small and embattled group of human rights advocates, most analysts agreed that China faced a smaller risk of street unrest than did Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. Unlike those countries, where oligarchic rule and high unemployment have fed discontent, China’s leaders have largely tamed widespread antipathy through policies that have led to robust economic growth and through selective repression that most Chinese have come to tolerate.

Over the past five years, stability maintenance, known as “weiwen” in Chinese, has become a multiagency juggernaut that relies on a sophisticated menu of Internet censorship, the harassment of blacklisted troublemakers and an industrial complex of paid informants and contractors. The vast bureaucracy extends from the Politiburo Standing Committee’s chief law enforcer, Zhou Yongkang, to neighborhood “safety patrol” volunteers on the lookout for Falun Gong members and low-level clashes that can mushroom into large-scale disturbances.

The party has matched this tight fist with a buildup of mediation techniques and manpower within party organizations and a system of rewards and punishments for bureaucrats who fulfill — or fail to meet — social harmony goals.

The problem, critics say, is that the high-level pressures to achieve stability often force local officials to clamp down on the symptoms of social discontent rather than address the underlying inequities. That feeds a spiral of new abuses and controls. Just as troubling, legal scholars and judges say, is a party drive to prioritize defusing conflict over adjudication by law.

Yu Jianrong, a leading sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has been blogging and traveling the country to warn local officials that the fixation on weiwen fuels government mistrust. “It is tantamount to drinking poison to quench one’s thirst,” he recently wrote in Caixin weekly.



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