February 06, 2006

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Killing chickens

No, this isn't a story about bird flu. Wu Zhong in today's Standard looks at an interesting development in Chinese administration: Beijing's forceful attempts to assert authority over provinces. Definitely worth a full read, but some key excerpts:

Beijing this year is setting out on a major and so far nearly impossible task: reining in local officials who dare to defy central government policies.So in the Year of the Dog, the Communist Party's disciplinary watchdogs and those of the central government are likely to become hounds that not only bark but bite. Their authority flows from China's first Civil Service Law, which went into effect from the start of this year and empowers them to punish and sack any official who disobeys the central government's authority. Given China's huge land mass, the problem of localism has existed throughout history, famously giving rise to the old adage that "the mountains are high and the emperor is far away."

Even Mao Zedong, with all his seeming omnipotence, would hardly have been able to weed out corrupt malpractices that were thousands of years old. In his historic 1972 meeting with US president Richard Nixon in his Zhongnanhai study, Mao said his influence hardly reached beyond Beijing, due to "passive resistance" in other regions.

The past two decades of dramatic economic reform have given the regional governments even greater autonomy to run their economies. Local officials have often simply ignored or eluded Beijing's dicta, in recent years becoming so bold that they have begun to defy Beijing's policies publicly...

China's classic tactic against those whom it wants to intimidate into line has long been known as killing the chicken to scare the monkeys. So it's quite likely that the new year is going to see some quaking bureaucrats in the dock, awaiting punishment, prison terms or even death sentences, to scare the rest of the monkeys back into line.

The estimate of 87,000 protests in 2005 equates to almost 240 incidents every day. These protests are typically about one of two issues: inadequate compensation for land reposession, and corrupt &/or incompetent local rule. Literally millions of people are involved in these protests and they represent the biggest potential threat to the continuing rule of the Communists. Can Beijing overturn history and bring the provinces and local administrations to heel? I doubt it, even for the CCP.

posted by Simon on 02.06.06 at 09:51 AM in the China politics category.


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Don't worry - because apparently we could all be saved from bird flu with elderberry extract!

posted by: james on 02.06.06 at 07:50 PM [permalink]

There is one very simple and quick solution to this problem, but unfortunately no one has the political will to carry it out today, not since the days of Mao anyway. A good old fashioned Roman decimation. Arbitrarily choose 1 out of every 10 provincial and local level cadres and have them shot. Fear will keep the rest in line. This would probably be far too destabilizing on the party apparatus to carry out, but on the upside it would streamline bureaucratic efficiency.

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