China Cracks Down on Local Officials in Wake of Riots, Bombs

Officials in central China’s Hubei province were suspended or detained after protests last week sparked by the death of a local councilman, reflecting rising public anger at abuse of power and a widening income gap.

At least five officials in Lichuan were detained or suspended following the June 4 death in police custody of Ran Jianxin, a former head of the city’s anti-corruption bureau who was being questioned over bribery, a government statement said. Photographs purporting to show Ran’s beaten body circulated on the Internet, and his family claimed he had been punished because of earlier allegations of corruption against senior officials over a land deal, the Associated Press reported,

Armored cars were used to quell protests on June 9 that were sparked by Ran’s death, with people throwing bottles and eggs as they clashed with police, the AP reported, citing local witnesses. Riots, strikes and protests are on the rise as inequality grows and people lash out at corrupt local governments seeking to generate income by selling homes and farms to real-estate developers at a profit.

“People are getting frustrated” at the “systemic exploitation of the have-nots, people at the bottom of the barrel,” said Willy Wo-lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The “formidable state control mechanism is still viable. I don’t think the regime is susceptible to being overcome by a Chinese-style Jasmine revolution,” he said, referring to the protests that have swept away regimes in the Middle East.

Beijing Protest

As many as 50 people in Beijing today protested outside of the Railway Ministry, holding signs demanding compensation for lost jobs. Several of the demonstrators kicked and punched some people who emerged from the ministry to confront them.

Last year China spent more on domestic security than it did on national defense, according to the Finance Ministry. The increase in police spending comes as so-called mass incidents, which include protests, riots and strikes, doubled in five years to 180,000 last year, according to Sun Liping, a professor of sociology at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Victor Shih, a professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said public discontent may continue because local governments, which rely on land sales to pay back loans for infrastructure projects, have an incentive to minimize compensation to the owners. The properties are then sold at a profit to developers.

May Bombing

A land dispute was central to a May 26 bombing in Jiangxi province that killed three people. Qian Mingqi also died in one of the three blasts he triggered in protest over compensation he had been offered in a resettlement, Xinhua said. Two local officials were dismissed after the explosions, the agency reported.

The Lichuan unrest was followed days later by an explosion near a government building in Tianjin that injured two people, the official Xinhua News Agency reported June 10. That same day, more than 100 people in a town in Guangdong province clashed with police over a crackdown on the sale of illegal goods, the China Daily reported. Police in riot gear patrolled the streets after three days of protests in the town, Zengcheng, Hong Kong government broadcaster reported today, without saying where it got the information.

China’s southern city of Chaozhou banned mass gatherings after protests this month sparked by a wage dispute escalated into clashes between locals and migrant workers, Caixin Online reported on June 8.

China raised minimum wages in 13 provinces for the first quarter of this year by about 20 percent on average to prevent social unrest, Xinhua News Agency said in April. The country’s inflation accelerated to 5.3 percent in April, exceeding the government’s 4 percent target for a fourth month.

Consumer Prices

A report tomorrow may show that consumer prices jumped 5.5 percent in May from a year earlier, the biggest gain in almost three years, the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey shows. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in March that controlling inflation was a top priority as the government seeks to narrow social inequalities fueling instability.

Authorities in China have reacted to the unrest with a combination of police force to quell protests and publicly announced actions to try to address people’s grievances. In Lichuan, officials held a meeting the day after Ran’s death, announcing on the local county government’s website that they attach “great importance” to investigating his death.

Mou Laijun, a member of the local commission for discipline inspection, was suspended after Ran’s death, the local government announced June 11. Zheng Zhengping, head of the county’s anti-corruption bureau was suspended and two local officials were arrested. Li Wei, the vice-party secretary for Lichuan, is under investigation.

The cause of Ran’s death is still under investigation, the local government said on its website. A family cousin said he found wounds on the dead man’s body and believed the death was “unnatural,” Xinhua said June 5.

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