Int'l Herald Tribune

Chinese Warn of Civil Unrest Across Country

Saturday, June 02, 2001

Erik Eckholm -- New York Times Service

Communist Party Document Paints Picture of Discontent

Beijing -- A startling new report from the Communist Party's inner sanctum describes a spreading pattern of "collective protests and group incidents" arising from economic, ethnic and religious conflicts in China and says relations between party officials and the masses are "tense, with conflicts on the rise."

The unusually frank report, produced by a top party research group and released quietly in the past week, describes mounting public anger over inequality, corruption and official aloofness. And it paints a picture of seething unrest almost as bleak as any drawn by dissidents abroad.

The report warns that the coming years of rapid change, driven by China's planned opening of markets to foreign trade and investment, are likely to mean even greater social conflict.

It makes urgent but vague recommendations for changes to save the party and the nation through "system reforms" that can reduce public grievances.

"Our country's entry into the World Trade Organization may bring growing dangers and pressures," the report states, "and it can be predicted that in the ensuing period the number of group incidents may jump, severely harming social stability and even disturbing the smooth implementation of reform and opening up."

The report, "China Investigation Report 2000-2001: Studies of Contradictions Within the People Under New Conditions," was compiled by a research group of the party's department of organization, which runs key party affairs including promotions, training and discipline.

The department is headed by Zeng Qinghong, a powerful and secretive adviser to President Jiang Zemin who is widely believed to seek higher office. It appears to represent an attempt by Mr. Zeng or other senior officials to set a reform-oriented agenda for party deliberations and leadership changes in the next few years.

The report, published as a book by a party press, cites growing inequality and corruption as overarching sources of discontent. The income gap is approaching the "alarm level," it says, with disparities widening between city and countryside, between the faster-growing east coast and the interior, and within urban populations as well. The report describes official corruption as "the main fuse exacerbating conflicts between officials and the masses."

Protests of all kinds have become more common as China pursues a wrenching change from the old state-run economy, a risky course the leadership feels is necessary to China's future growth, and as the public becomes more assertive about perceived rights.

Workers laid off from failing state enterprises have protested the misuse of company assets by managers and the frequent failure to pay worker pensions and stipends. Farmers angered by unbearable taxes and haughty officials have had numerous deadly encounters with the police.

The report was published as a 308-page book by the party's Central Compilation and Translation Press. It was freely available for purchase Friday at the press's office, where buyers were trickling in based on word-of-mouth, but has not yet been widely publicized or sold in the country's bookstores.

The study was intended, its introduction says, to analyze the causes of growing "contradictions" among the people and propose countermeasures.

The somber analysis contrasts starkly with the upbeat messages generally offered in official speeches and newspapers, where every problem is described as nearly solved, and it is unclear why officials broke with the tradition of keeping sensitive findings secret.

The book is at once a call for vigilance against threats and a plea for speedy reforms within the party and government, such as strengthening the legal system and expanding "socialist democracy." It warns that economic development must benefit the majority of people and that victims of change must be fairly compensated.

At the same time, it attacks the notion that Marxism is obsolescent and aims to salvage the party's rule through innovation, not to end its monopoly on power. Beyond stimulating discussion, the report could represent an effort by Mr. Zeng or others to lay out their own credentials as the Communist Party enters an uncertain period of transition and chooses new leaders. Mr. Jiang and other top leaders are expected to relinquish most of their party and government posts over the next two years.

The report does not estimate the number of disturbances, but its strong language suggests that the scale of demonstrations and riots has been greater than revealed, either by the official press or in reports abroad.

While security agencies have not been able to prevent such incidents, they have prevented disaffected workers or farmers in different regions from linking up, thus avoiding any serious blows to Communist rule so far.

The government's response to unrest has been two-pronged: containment and reform. In well-publicized speeches last year, Mr. Jiang and others said there was a the need to nip in the bud any threats to social stability, which in practice has meant stricter policing of dissenters and tighter restrictions on publishing.

This year, a national "strike-hard campaign" against crime has included a jump in arrests and prison sentences for those accused of stirring ethnic divisions in regions such as the Xinjiang, the Uighur Muslim province in the west. Independent labor organizers have been jailed.