Premier Wen Jiabao emphasized that China would continue to promote "gradual reforms to political institutions," but focus primarily on economic
development, according to a speech carried by Xinhua on February 26.
The transcript (audio and written) of the December 5, 2006 conference on Rural Discontent, Rule of Law, and Social Unrest in China sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is now available here.
The four discussants, and their topics, included:
Carl Minzner, Visiting Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, CSIS Origins of Chinese Social Unrest
Kevin O’Brien, Professor of Political Science, Chair of the Center for Chinese Studies, UC Berkeley Protest Leadership in Rural China
Ben Liebman, Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, Columbia Law School China’s Courts: Restricted Reform?
Murray Scot Tanner, Senior Political Scientist, RAND Corporation Implications of Chinese Social Unrest for the United States
Chinese authorities have implemented somewhat liberal reforms with respect to rural civil society organizations in issuing the he Law on Professional Farmers' Cooperatives
[LPFC] on October 31, 2006 (effective
on July 1, 2007). The law creates a channel for farmers to register and obtain legal status for organizations that they create to protect their collective economic interests. The LPFC requires farmers to register professional farmers' cooperatives with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, but does not subject them to the sponsorship requirement that Chinese authorities use to control the growth of civil society organizations such as social organizations or non-governmental, non-commerical enterprises.
People keep asking me the above question. Generally, it comes in one of two forms. The first is: are Chinese authorities liberalizing or tightening their controls over domestic and foreign civil society organizations in China. The second is: what are the interesting topical areas to focus on for organizations that want to do work in China.
Two recent speeches by Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) officials on January 31, 2007 shed some additional light on these topics, the first by MOCA Vice-Minister Jiang Li, and the second by the director of MOCA's Bureau for the Management of Civil Society Organizations, Sun Weilin. Highlights include:
The State Council's Standing Committee is currently reviewing the revisions to the 1998 regulations governing social organizations. Sun's speech notes that MOCA has already submitted these to the State Council's Standing Committee.
Chinese authorities are moving ahead with the creation of a new "rating" system for civil society organizations. Experimental projects have been launched in a number of different regions and areas.
MOCA officials are making strong efforts to increase their work with rural professional economic associations. This follows emphasis in the Party's "No. 1 Document" for 2007 regarding the importance of these organizations.
Chinese authorities continue to supress and root out illegal, unregistered civil society organizations.
So, to return to the initial two questions. First, are Chinese authorities loosening or tightening their restrictions on civil society organizations?
Chinese authorities have clearly taken additional steps to curtail civil society organizations in
the past two years. Monitoring and harassment of these groups has increased, and there has been a "virtual paralysis" on the registration of new groups, as the Congressional-Executive Commission on China noted in the civil society section of its 2006 Annual Report.
But Chinese authorities are undecided on how to proceed. Expected revisions to the 1998 regulations have languished for five years. There seems to be some serious internal debate inside the Chinese bureaucracy on exactly how to manage these organizations. Earlier MOCA versions of the draft regulations apparently would have done away with the requirement that civil society groups have a Party or government sponsor organization in order to register and obtain legal status. But State Council officials appear to have vetoed these proposals, as as the Congressional-Executive Commission on China noted in the civil society section of its 2005 Annual Report. The sponsor organization requirement is one of the key devices by which Chinese authorities keep a check on the development of independent Chinese civil society organizations.
In all likelihood, whenever the regulations do issue, the sponsor organization requirement will be retained. Media reports on the MOCA draft have noted as much. It's also likely that the sponsor organization requirement will be expanded to include foreign NGOs operating in China as well. Sun's speech notes that the revised regulations "severely need to come out, in order to respond to challenges presented by foreign civil society organizations." Moreover, when Chinese authorities revised their regulations on foundations in 2003, the sponsor organization requirement was extended to cover both foreign and domestic groups. (For more information, see the article on page 110 of the April 2004 issue of the International Journal of Civil Society Law) It seems likely that the newly issued foundation regulations would serve as a template for future revisions to the corresponding 1998 regulations governing social organizations and non-governmental, non-commercial enterprises.
The second question: what are the interesting topical areas to focus on for organizations that want to do work in China. Take a good hard look at the rural professional economic associations. Chinese leaders have particularly emphasized the importance of resolving rural problems, and have specifically indicated a degree of openness in working with these groups. Since one of the main problems faced by Chinese farmers is a lack of organizational structures to use to defend their collective interests, the development of these groups is a particularly interesting and positive. Of course, how it plays out in practice remains an open question.
To: Students and Recent Graduates Interested in Chinese Legal Reform
From: The China Law Center, Yale Law School
Date: February 7, 2007
Re: Research Associate Position in Beijing
The China Law Center of Yale Law School is seeking a graduating student
or recent university graduate for a Research Associate position based
in Beijing. The Research Associate will support Center projects in
China by providing administrative and logistical support; conducting
research and writing on issues related to legal reform; and
communicating with scholars, officials, and lawyers.
Ministry of Public Security (MPS) spokesman Wu Heping and deputy director of the MPS's criminal investigation bureau Yu Xinmin emphasized MPS successes in breaking homicide cases, but provided no information as to trends regarding citizen protest activities, at a February 6, 2007 State Council Information Office press conference discussing general public order trends for 2006. A transcript of the event is available on the Chinese government's website.
The MPS officials provided numerous statistics related to law enforcement work in 2006. They noted that the MPS handled roughly 4.65 million criminal cases in 2006, roughly the same for the last three years. They also strongly emphasized MPS successes in solving homicide cases, claiming a national average 91.4% in solving eight types of these cases.
The MPS officials did not provide any statistics related to citizen protests in China. In 2005, Zhou Yongkang, minister in charge of the public security bureau, noted that mass incidents (群体性事件） had risen to 74,000 in 2004, up from 10,000 in 1994, according to media sources cited on the website of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). MPS authorities announced in 2006 that the total number of crimes of "disturbing public order" for 2005 had risen by 6.6 percent over 2004, to 87,000, according to media sources cited on the CECC website. The use of different terms (and the absence of corresponding information for 2006), renders direct comparisons impossible. For further discussion on this point, see the EastSouthWestNorth blog.
You read about it in the news. Another case of several hundred Chinese villagers gathering together to protest illegal taxes. Or, a group of migrant workers demanding that local officials compel the construction company that they work pay them the back wages they are owed. And you think, is this is China? Don't Chinese leaders have authoritarian political controls they can use to stamp out these protests? Why don't they do it in every case?
One - it's tough. There is a lot of discontent in China. Squelching every protest through armed force requires a big investment of time, energy, and money. It also results in a lot of negative publicity at home and abroad. Central Chinese authorities prefer to save their strongest repressive measures for cases such as Tiananmen Square in 1989 or organizations such as Falun Gong.
Second, China's leaders themselves recognize that some of these protests are valid. Many citizen protests are directed against local corruption and illegal abuses by local cadres, rather than directly challenging Communist Party rule by officials in Beijing. In recent years, Chinese officials have repeatedly emphasized that 80% of citizen petitions are justified, and 80% of them reflect problems of local governance. Central Chinese leaders are willing to tacitly permit some of these citizen protests, such as those that challenge local abuses they themselves are trying to crack down on, as long as the protests don't get too out of hand, and as long as the protests remain directed at local (rather than central) officials.
Third, instead of simply calling in the troops every time a group of farmers mount a protest, Chinese authorities have developed an alternative strategy for dealing with citizen unrest: taking out the leaders. The thinking goes, if you can remove the organizational structure behind protests, you don't need to crack down so hard on the hundreds of participants who simply join in. This is why Chinese leaders often come down like a ton of bricks on those they perceive as active organizers of citizen protests, whether or not those leaders have attempted to pursue peaceful and legal methods of protest.
This focused (and long-standing) policy of selective use of criminal sanctions is reflected in a recent opinion issued by the Supreme People's Procuratorate on December 26, 2006. It directs procuratorate officials to "strike hard" against those who organize or lead "mass incidents" (a term that Chinese officials use to include riots, demonstrations, or collective protests against government action). In contrast, it directs procuratorators to "cautiously use coercive measures and criminal suits against ordinary participants," and notes that "if it is necessary to file suit, [procuracy officials] may request leinency from the people's courts."