2009 A New Concept in Preserving Stability: from Forceful Control to a Dynamic Balance
April 13, 2009, Southern Wind Window
Because China faces a financial crisis, and is trying to "turn the crises into an opportunity," and move forward in rejuvenation, it is very anxious about increased social instability. Why is there more and more social violence? Has society reached a critical point in stability?
For a long time, state power has been improving its maintenance of stability to a higher degree. The work in stability preservation in 2009 has also entered the "post-Olympic era.” Government officials have increased pressure to assess social stability. Local governments spare no effort in adding more police, and holding endless anti-riot drills. Mobilization of the masses for preserving stability is common in many places. The experience of this special time period has become the norm.
It is worth asking: have our society’s conflicts and violence reached such a point that we have to apply violent solutions? Or it is that our maintaining stability mindset, and methods have reached the limit? In fact, people have seen, since 2008, that we have paid a lot of money to learn many lessons. The related sides have realized a need for self-examination. We should not attribute the intention “with ulterior motives” so often; we should apply police force with caution. People are saying, “Whoever keeps people from living well, let’s not let him live well.” There is a large gap between what the governmental does and people’s expectations. We should “seriously deal with appeals, especially when corruption causes a mass incident.” All of this shows the existing system’s desire and ability to perform self-adjustment.
There are always more solutions than problems. The key is whether to cover up the conflicts, delay the issues, or to face the conflicts and bravely open the lid. As the general secretary of the CCP Central Committee, President and Central Military Commission, Chairman Hu Jintao has said, we should “in time sum up the practical experience of reform, persist on those right ones, and correct mistakes ASAP. When a new issue comes up, study it and solve it quickly.” In terms of stability preservation, we need to have a similar approach.
The Stability Preservation Office Steps Forward
The “three policies” on petition reform
For the past 30 years of reform and opening up, maintaining stability has been a constant topic. During the early time of reform and opening up, maintaining social order, and suppressing criminals were the top priority. In the late 1990s, the conflicts triggered by business reform and bankruptcy were very prominent. Paying attention to people’s livelihood, maintaining stability, and promoting harmony became the focus. Within this context, the coordinating unit to safeguard social stability, the Stability Preservation Office, came into being.
From the central to the provincial, city, county, village, and district levels, to important businesses, and industries, the Stability Preservation Office under the “Stability Preservation Leaders Group Office,” was established at all local levels.
At present, the CCP Central Committee has “the Communist Party Central Committee Leaders Group Tasked with Preserving Stability,” directly operating inside the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. The current head of “the CCP Central Committee Leaders Group Tasked With Preserving Stability,” is Zhou Yongkang, Political and Legislative Affairs Committee secretary, and member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP. Under the “Leaders Group,” there is “Stability Preservation Office.” The head of the “Stability Preservation Office” is the CCP Central Committee member and Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Public Security. The CCP Central Committee directly operates this office. Its nature is to hold discussions and coordinate among different departments.
It is said that the deputy Secretary of the CCP Political and Legislative Affairs Committee often heads the Stability Preservation Office. In terms of the importance, however, the Stability Preservation Office must understand various issues from all aspects of social development. It is not limited to the Political and Legislative part. Thus its member units cover a broader area than the Central Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. Besides the police, the procuratorate, the court system, and the state-security department, it also includes the media department.
Xu Jinxiao, head of Stability Preservation Office in Chongwen District, Beijing City, told a reporter that the reason that the Stability Preservation Office was established inside the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee was because a large portion of social conflicts and issues involve social stability. Thus they enter the area of the Political and Legislative field.
Xu Jinxiao said that the Stability Preservation Office is a co-located permanent temporary structure. Why it is permanent? Because the government’s general policy is that stability overrides everything. Stability is a long-term strategic task. Why is it temporary? It is because the office does not have a separate office staff. Its personnel are drawn from various departments.
One expert told the reporter, “The Communist Party Central Committee Leaders Group Tasked With Preserving Stability” was formally established in the 1990s. But the Stability Preservation Office at different levels in China was set up only in the last few years.”
It is said, the responsibility of the Stability Preservation Office includes collecting and controlling the status and information about maintaining stability; offering solutions and suggestions; organizing and carrying out stability preservation promotion and research; summarizing and promoting good experiences; coordinating, and guiding the social conflicts investigation work; coordinating and guiding the various departments at different levels to handle mass incidents properly; coordinating, the supervision of important individual cases and mass incidents; supervising the implementation of responsibility for leading the work for stability preservation; and supervising, inspecting, and assessing the carrying out duties to maintain stability at the various departments in China.
Although the Stability Preservation Office has been established for a long time, others first started to pay attention to it last year (2008) during the Wal-Mart trade union incident.
On March 14, 2008, Hu Jintao gave instructions to The Analysis and Suggestion on the Unstable Factors in the Foreign-Invested Businesses in Our Costal Regions, issued by the Central Stability Preservation Office. He stressed doing the work well, “including improving the law and regulations, improving the coordination mechanism of labor and investment relations, strengthening the CCP in establishing work and trade unions in foreign invested business, solving conflicts, and ensuring the stability of business and society.” Afterwards, Wal-mart, which was always anti-union, dramatically changed its attitude. On July 29, the first Walt-mart trade union was established at the Jinjiang store, Quanzhou City, Fujian Province. On August 9, Wal-Mart China’s headquarters announced that it would assist the All-China Federation of Labor and trade unions in China to establish trade unions in all Wal-mart stores in China.
Stability Preservation Authorities Gain More Power
Teng Shengping, Secretary of the Beijing City Chongwen District Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Secretary of the District Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, and Director of the District Committee for Comprehensive Management of Public Security, made the following comment. Due to the issues, including economics, politics, people’s livelihood, and managing society, as well as the intervention of these different issues, right now society’s situation is very complicated, harsh, and not optimistic. Teng said, “Due to the economical crisis, the economy is still falling. Because of this, the ‘ignition point’ for social conflict keeps dropping, and the number of ‘touch spots’ keeps increasing. Inside and outside China, the enemies’ attempts to ‘infiltration and sabotage’ have not gone away. All signs show that the enemy forces have started to organize activities to sabotage China. The harsh situation due to internal conflicts among the masses has not changed and old and new issues are cross-affecting each other. The harsh condition of production safety issues has not improved.”
Aiming at stability preservation work, Wang Qijiang, a Standing CCP Committee Member of Hebei Province, Director of the Province Comprehensive Management of Public Security, and Secretary of the Province Committee of Political And Legislative Affairs, said that Hebei Province has constructed a system of stability supervision. This is a precautionary action to try to prevent the issues before they occur. It uses “warning for one ballot rejection” (immediate rejection), meaning the relevant people will be warned of immediate rejection if they are found responsible for not taking care of the issues. It is mainly for identifying potential large-scale incidents, and areas and departments that have potential major conflicts. Through sending a “letter for assigning supervision of maintaining stability,” the issue symptom is pointed out, and assignments are explicitly made for the relevant leaders to resolve the issue within a limited period of time. In the case that, after the supervision is assigned, due to a breach of duty of the people who are assigned to do supervision, that the incident still occurs, then the responsible people will be “warned for one ballot rejection.”
Some insiders discussed that the preserving stability work is divided into three periods this year. The first period is from January to March. The goal is to ensure the two national conferences are carried out smoothly. The second period is from April to July. It is mainly for the 10-year anniversary of the ban on Falun Gong, more deeply carrying out the fight against evil cults, and strictly preventing the destructive actions from evil cult organizations such as Falun Gong. The third period is from August to December. It is mainly surrounding the topic of celebrating the 60-year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding.
From the practical experiences of different regions, we see that the stability preservation offices have generally reinforced their work intensity, and their responsibility and workloads are increasing quickly.
In Qimen County, Anhui Province, a new joint conference system among five offices and two branches was established. The five offices and two branches include the Stability Preservation Office, the Office of Comprehensive Management of Public Security, the Anti Cult Office, the Office of Complaints, the Office of the Safety Production Committee, the Police Station, and the Judicial Bureau. The Office of Stability Preservation will lead the joint conference and will hold it periodically or intermittently, depending on the need. This system can effectively solve long existing conflicts, the hidden danger of the complaints, and other factors that may cause instability. It can also solve overall cooperation issues such as having too many relevant branches, branches not coordinating well, and information not flowing smoothly.
In Pingyang County, Zhejiang Province, the local Stability Preservation Office listed all the major projects that can potentially cause large-scale conflicts and incidents from the masses. These are listed based on different levels including province, city, and county, and the evaluations are sent to the project organizations to make sure the supervision will be carried out. For some of the major projects, the county Stability Preservation Office directly sends people to evaluate. If it is found that responsibility was not taken, these people will cooperate with the discipline inspection commission, inspection branches, and organization department to do an investigation and turn it in to the county committee of the CCP. Then it will be handled based on the “Temporary Provision for Responsibility System and Accountability for Preventing and Dealing with Mass Group Incidents in Zhejiang Province.” The evaluation is also listed as part of the end-of-year assessment of “establishing peace” in each town and township.
In the second half of last year, there were two town level departments that did not evaluate major projects. This resulted in major incidents. These two town level departments were held accountable for their responsibility and were rated as failed in their assessment.
In the first half of last year, the leader group of the Pingyang County Stability Preservation office issued a document that emphasized, “Whoever initiates a project will be responsible for evaluating the risk,” and will be responsible for evaluating, reporting, resolving, and dealing with the consequences. Major decisions, major policies, major projects, and major changes that have not been evaluated absolutely will not be carried out. If they cause any instances of instability, the leaders will be held accountable for their responsibility.
Shi Yijun, who works at the Stability Preservation Office in Pingyang County, said that this year, Pingyang County will raise the level of punishment and will track individuals for responsibilities. Once a major conflict has happened, the leaders of that work unit will be openly criticized and may even be dismissed from office.
The work of the Stability Preservation Office has also touched private firms. As private economics has further developed, there have been more stability issues and security issues related to the private firms. The “Overall Stability Preservation Entering Private Firms,” initiated by Fujian, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang Provinces, has been put into practice everywhere in China.
Following the Mass Line
Strengthening the acquisition of information is the most important task for all the stability preservation offices.
“Enhance the strength of getting and analyzing information, resolve the issues in the early stage, and nip it in the bud, are the fundamental ways for resolving major conflicts and firmly taking control of the matter,” said Lu Baoxin, Huangshi City Vice Secretary of the District Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, and director of the City Stability Preservation Office.
However, just by relying on the limited number of people in the office, it is impossible to reach this goal. Therefore, following the mass line and developing a lot of “information people for the stability preservation office” are keys for acquiring the risk factors in time. “The masses are the real impregnable wall,” said Lu Baoxin, who has been working on the front line of stability preservation since the 1990s.
In order to discover the indications and symptoms of large-scale incidents and malignant smaller scale incidents, Huangshi City constructed an information-acquiring system to receive an early warning of such incidents. Different levels, different branches, and different work units have all made information supervisors responsible for obtaining the information, and also each community uses elderly communist members and others who have retired to collect the information on various risks that may affect stability. They report the general risks every week and major risks are reported immediately.
“Without support from the masses, we cannot control the matter in time, eliminate the instability factors, and, in turn, win the time and the initiative,” said Lu Baoxin.
The information supervisors are spread in every corner and their task is to obtain the risk factors at the earliest possible time. “Find it early, resolve it early, and eliminate it early,” said an experienced stability preservation leader in Luxi County, Jiangxi Province, “We purposely brought in some ‘spies’ in the areas where there were more conflicts.” On the other hand, in Taxia Township, Yichun City, Jiangxi Province, an assessment system is specified in the “Assessment Method for Information Supervisors of the Stability Preservation Office,” which requires that every information supervisor develop at least five information spies, who are to be examined and approved by the city stability preservation office.
The Difficulties of Stability Preservation at the Base Levels
A person who works in the stability preservation office at a base level said that for the stability preservation office at the town level or the township level, the tasks are more detailed but the offices’ position is relatively low. There is not enough manpower but there are lots of things to do. This is like using a small horse to pull a big cart and these stability preservation offices at the base level are very overwhelmed by the workload.
“Each town and township has a stability preservation office. However, most of them just have a small group of people without clearly divided duties. Usually they just deal with whatever happens and they lack overall coordination. Therefore they are very exhausted from dealing with everything. As for the manpower, most offices only have three people, a top leader that is assigned to take care of stability preservation, the stability preservation office director, and a stability preservation specialist. In some areas there is not even a specialist. Usually two or three people are taking a workload that is hard to bear,” said this person.
From the information we obtained, it is a general issue that at the base level of the stability preservation system, there are few personnel and it lacks a steady and stable workforce.
One relevant staff member in Changde City, Hunan Province said, “The overall workload of towns and townships is usually quite heavy. The most important tasks are economic development, attracting business and investment, and working on various projects. Also these usually involve important elements in the assessment by higher branches. As for stability preservation, since it does not have a direct economic benefit, although it is good for a town to get an award for it, most small towns just try to establish the minimum requirement. He said, “From the situation of how the towns and townships spend their funds, first they aim to assure everyone has food, second they focus on economic development, and then other things come next in the list of priorities. Obviously stability preservation is in the category of ‘other things.’”
He said, the work of stability preservation is very complicated in nature, and one may have to deal with all kinds of people in society with various jobs and backgrounds. Some work has to do with farmers who have lost their land, some has to do with land conflicts, some has to do with firms changing policies, and some has to do with past issues. After one unstable issue is worked out today, tomorrow there may be some new unstable factor. Some of the issues cannot be resolved immediately and may require a longer period of time. Some stability preservation work can be foreseen and some cannot be. Often something happens instantaneously with no signal and is very hard to deal with since it was not anticipated. Some work is policy related and others may be law related, but the stability preservation personnel cannot be experts at everything. Thus it may be troublesome to resolve them. The workload is quite heavy and these stability preservation personnel are overburdened.
According to him, the solution for this problem is very simple. More people need to be involved at the base level, and the financial help must be there. At the same time, there needs to be more training for related topics. The stability preservation work may touch the areas of policy and law, so the people assigned to various tasks need to be carefully chosen and need to be trained periodically on policy and laws.
At the base levels, there are also complaints that too many top branches command them to do things. One base level official said to reporter, “Nowadays there are too many leaders. Today someone comes to check for safety, and tomorrow the stability preservation branch comes to check the work. The base levels have just enough time to deal with them and no time for anything else.” He suggests combining safety, comprehensive management, and stability preservation work into one.
 South Wind View Magazine, 2009-5-19
http://www.nfcmag.com/articles/1464 (subscription required)