Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 25

While the Chinese Communist Party pledged at its 16th Congress barely six weeks ago to justify its mandate of heaven by building a “comprehensive well-off society,” it is also beefing up the country’s control mechanism to squash challenges to the socialist order. Rhetoric aside, President Jiang Zemin and new party chief Hu Jintao are but following Deng Xiaoping’s so-called double-fisted approach to achieving the proverbial “long reign and perennial stability”: The dictatorship of the proletariat must continue to be imposed even as the country focuses on economic construction and market-style reforms.

On the one hand, the CCP has promised to boost GDP from around US$1.2 trillion to at least US$4.4 trillion, and to raise the per capita share of GDP from the current US$800 to around US$3,000 by 2020. Moreover, the social stratum with middle-level income [middle class, seen as the most important pillar of stability in 21st century China] will be augmented. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences sociologist Lu Xueyi has indicated that Beijing plans to increase the middle-class share of the population from 18 percent to about 40 percent in twenty years’ time. Experience abroad, Lu noted, has shown that the middle class “tends to identify itself with the policies of the ruling party.”

Beijing has also gone out of its way to show that it has not forsaken the CCP’s traditional supporters–the workers and farmers. Since the Congress, Hu has convened a number of meetings, including a Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) session, on ways and means to help unemployed workers and poor pensioners. The mid-December PSC meeting ordered the Finance Ministry to dole out more emergency relief for destitute households in the run-up to the Lunar New Year. And the party chief has called on cadres to spend more time among the masses, “particularly in areas where difficulties, problems and contradictions abound.”

At the same time, however, Beijing is ready to crack the whip on disgruntled social elements that might make trouble for the party and state. These range from jobless laborers and political dissidents to ethnic separatists and the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Liberal party members as well as intellectuals were disturbed by the fact that President Jiang highlighted the ultra-conservative Four Cardinal Principles [Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Communist Party leadership, the socialist road and dictatorship of the proletariat] in his Political Report to the Congress. Moreover, the newly revised CCP charter stated in no uncertain terms that the party “must uphold the Four Cardinal Principles and combat bourgeois liberalization in the course of socialist modernization construction.”

Beijing’s tools for proletarian dictatorship include the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Armed Police (PAP), the police and other state security departments. And it is not surprising that while quite a number of party and government organs have been streamlined since the late 1980s, the PLA has enjoyed hefty budgetary boosts year after year–and the personnel establishments of the PAP and police have been substantially increased.

Beijing’s determination to strengthen what its critics call a police state apparatus is evident from a series of appointments at and immediately after the 16th Congress. For the first time in recent history, three members of the ruling Politburo have been put in charge of law and order and internal security. They include Politburo Standing Committee members Wu Guanzheng and Luo Gan and Politburo member Zhou Yongkang.

Wu is secretary of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, China’s highest agency for fighting corruption and enforcing party discipline. And Luo heads the Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs, which oversees the law enforcement and judicial apparatuses. In particular, the appointment early this month of Zhou Yongkang as head of the 1.6 million-strong police forces raised eyebrows because it was the first time in 25 years that a minister of public security had been accorded Politburo status.

A former party boss of Sichuan Province, Zhou is considered close to both President Jiang and out-going parliament chief Li Peng. Zhou has replaced Minister of Public Security Jia Chunwang, who will soon be made head of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. The last time that a minister of public security had Politburo ranking was in the mid-1970s, when former Communist party chairman Hua Guofeng doubled as police chief.

Political analysts said the unusual personnel moves underscored the central leadership’s commitment to fighting crime and related problems including subversion and cult-related activities. Beijing also feared internal security might deteriorate in the wake of growing unemployment among urban and rural workers. The official People’s Public Security Paper quoted Zhou as saying immediately after his appointment that the authorities would crack down hard on efforts by “enemy forces within and outside China” to infiltrate, subvert and sabotage public order.

Zhou, 60, also pointed out that the police would target the Falun Gong spiritual movement as well as disruptive activities by terrorist and separatist groups. Moreover, the new police chief said more work would be done to defuse “contradictions within the people,” a code word for instability caused by marginalized social elements such as laid-off workers and farmers.

According to party and government tradition, Zhou is also slated to become first political commissar of the PAP, the paramilitary force charged with quelling internal disturbances. The strength of the PAP, whose budget is never publicized, is estimated at over 1 million. During his tenure as party boss of Sichuan, Zhou was believed to have played a role in cracking down on underground, pro-independence Tibetan groups within the western province.

At the same time, Beijing’s resolve to crack down on terrorism–much of it related to separatists in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region–is evidenced by the unprecedentedly large number of Xinjiang-related cadres who gained seats on the ruling Central Committee last month. And the Xinjiang party secretary, Wang Lequan, who made it to the Politburo at the 16th Congress, has been given new responsibilities in rooting out terrorist cells and preventing the “infiltration” of radical Islamic groups into western China.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Beijing has stepped up action against underground groups active in Xinjiang such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The central government has claimed that the ETIM and its sympathizers are responsible for numerous terrorist acts in Xinjiang that have included explosions, arson and assassination.

Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said it was very rare for a party boss from Xinjiang to gain Politburo status, and Wang’s elevation reflected the new leadership’s determination to maintain order and stability in regions with substantial ethnic minorities. Wang, 58, has worked in Urumqi since 1990 and he is reportedly close to General Secretary Hu, who served as party secretary of Tibet from 1988 to 1992.

The Central Committee endorsed by the 16th Congress also included Xinjiang Governor Ablait Abdureschit, Xinjiang Vice Party Secretary Zhou Shengtao and Xinjiang Military Construction Commander Zhang Qingni. Three leading officers from the PLA’s Lanzhou Military Region (LMR), which is responsible for Xinjiang and neighboring provinces, were also inducted to the policy-setting committee. They were the commander, General Li Qianyuan, the political commissar, General Liu Dongdong, and the regional chief of staff, General Chang Wanquan. Qiu Yanhan, the commander of the Xinjiang Military District, a unit within the LMR, was made an alternate Central Committee member.

Beijing’s campaign against terrorist and separatist elements in Xinjiang and Tibet has intensified since the United States and United Nations agreed last August to put the ETIM on their lists of international terrorist organizations. And Xinjiang newspapers had run photos of “antiterrorist maneuvers” in unspecified areas in the region in tandem with their reports of the 16th Congress.

The CCP leadership’s crackdown on terrorism, however, is not restricted to Xinjiang or Tibet. A key task of the police and antiterrorist squads within the PAP is to prevent or at least minimize quasiterrorist activities in urban areas that are perpetrated by disgruntled citizens such as unemployed workers who bear grudges against their employers. These so-called “destabilizing elements” have used violent means to vent their anger and frustration. The latter have ranged from explosions to food poisoning–usually with the help of easily available rat poison–to cause massive numbers of casualties. Whether stability can be maintained on so many fronts will be an indicator of the skills and resolve if not also ruthlessness of the Fourth Generation leadership.

Willy Wo-Lap Lam, one of Asia’s best-known journalists and authors, is a senior China analyst at CNN’s Asia-Pacific Office in Hong Kong.