Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: New Complaint Policy


It would appear, according to a domestic newspaper story, that senior party officials in provinces across China have been asked by the central government in Beijing to meet with petitioners about complains in an effort to help reduce social disputes and civil unrest, as well as help stem the flow of petitioners to Beijing from the provinces. See the Story Link Here.

Social unrest is, without a doubt, the number one concern in the eyes of government officials throughout the country. Some people out there might question my saying that, but every economic policy that comes out has the effect of quelling some possible protest somewhere.

Social unrest is common occurrence in China, even though protests or demonstrations are officially illegal. Therefore regular people have no outlet for their dissatisfaction of local government officials; close your eyes and image an old fashioned kettle boiling up and whistling away with steam pipping out. It is easy to see how people can see that aggressive, desperate action is the only action.

But in a year of the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, the government is trying to show the people that while the party is unelected, they are responsible and they care. It's far fetched, but even a bit of dialog is better than the thuggish bullying, ignoring and imprisonment that has been the unofficial policy for the last two decades. You see most government officials get a report card at the end of every year and social unrest in a region under your watch is highly frowned upon, so everything is done to avoid the people taking to the streets.

In several extreme cases it is reported that people traveling with petitions, or official complaints, to Beijing from their province are often caught and jailed without trial; in an effort to keep Beijing officials in the dark about what is actually happening in the countryside. A nasty side effect of virtual independence, by local officials, to run their fiefdom as they see fit. In one banner case last year the New York Times wrote of a local official who was arresting petitioners, who were trying to out government officials on illegal land seizures and pollution, and sending them in to psychiatric hospitals. A page straight out of Stalin's book, the only problem is that this is 2009 and that kind of behavior shouldn't be acceptable for leading government officials in an emerging super power, and owner of the world's third largest economy. But as long as China continues to buy US treasury bills, mum's the word.

So in an effort to calm the extremes the party leadership in Beijing is trying to create a communications bridge between upset folks and their government officials, essentially this is the only option in a country that has a one party system that also dominates the legal system. Will it work? My guess is no. I don't think government officials have the right set of morals or characteristics to be sensitive to these cases; in most cases they'll be brushed off as impediments to progress and GDP growth. A painful and short sighted view, but as someone on the ground I just can't see things changing much.

An old political philosophy professor at the University of Toronto used to always tell me that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely...", a line from Lord Acton in his open letter to Bishop Creighton in 1887. And in the case of China this phrase nails it. Chinese officials operate in a world with no political competition, no media freedom, as well as control of the banks, police and courts. If that is not absolute power what is?

Ryan Pyle

No comments:

Post a Comment


This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle