Tempers are fraying fast

More unrest in China this week

Tempers are fraying fast

Forceful statement: riot police patrol Zengcheng where thousand of migrant workers protested this week

Perhaps China’s leaders have been thumbing through the opening lines of 14th century classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in recent weeks. It begins: “The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.”

Social unrest has always presaged the periods where China has broken-up. So the news in recent days will continue to worry the Politburo: more riots and more bombings. These compound a wave of disturbing events that WiC has been reporting each week. First a suicide bombing at a government office in Fuzhou, then ethnic tensions in Inner Mongolia (see following article) and then six days of disturbances among Sichuanese migrant workers in Chaozhou (where a police station was attacked, see WiC110).

This week, more incidents. In the southern factory town of Zengcheng, where thousands of Sichuanese migrant workers again took to the streets. This time they were protesting after a pregnant woman was manhandled by local government security staff as she tried to peddle goods.

Enraged, her provincial compatriots smashed cars and besieged a government office. Riot police and military vehicles were then deployed to block a march towards an upmarket residential area called Phoenix City. Xinhua said that at least 25 were arrested, but by Monday night the situation was under control. As the Yangcheng Evening News then reported, the husband of the attacked woman appeared at a press conference to say his wife (and unborn baby) were in good shape.

In Hubei province there was also unrest in the city of Lichuan, when protesters took to the streets after a local delegate to the National People’s Congress died in police custody. Ran Jianxin died while being interrogated, reports the Associated Press. This angered locals, who said he had been trying to expose local officials for grabbing land for redevelopment (something similar motivated the Fuzhou suicide bombing). Thousands then took to Lichuan’s streets, ransacking the office of the city’s Party boss before order was eventually restored (again) by paramilitary police.

Adding to the problematic picture: internet sources say government offices were also bombed this weekend in Tianjin, a major city not far from Beijing.

Will tensions subside? Continued high inflation (at a 34-month high of 5.5% in May), plus signs of economic slowdown may stoke further pressures. As could a summer of power blackouts, which may result in factories laying off migrant workers. The rioting in Chaozhou is said to have been sparked by factory bosses failure to pay outstanding wages to fired workers.

All in all, the government’s decision to raise this year’s spending on police and public security by 13% (to an unprecedented $95 billion– exceeding even the $92 billion military budget) is looking prescient.

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