Xi Jinping outlines new rules for preventing corruption as the first high-ranking official is investigated since the 18th Party Congress. 14 workers die in a Guangdong factory fire apparently lit by an unpaid ex-employee. Tensions between Hans and Uyghurs continue to simmer in many regions of China. These are the top stories from the People¡¯s Republic of China for the week of December 7.
Investigation, New Rules for Elites Highlight Xi Jinping¡¯s First Anti-Corruption Push
The Communist Party of China launched a corruption inquiry into a top official from Sichuan Province on December 3. Sichuan Deputy Party Boss Li Chuncheng is suspected of buying and selling official positions within the Communist Party and the local government. Li was named one of 171 alternate members of the powerful 205 member Central Committee during last month¡¯s National Party Congress, but has not made any appearances in public since November 19. Li¡¯s investigation comes one week after an official from Chongqing resigned after a 5-year-old sex tape of him and his then 18-year-old mistress was uploaded onto the internet. Li¡¯s investigation also comes on the heels of the arrest of Dai Xiaoming, the Chairman of the Chengdu Industry Investment Group on suspicions that he bribed several officials. Before his current posting, Li Chuncheng was the Party Chief for Chengdu. Li and Dai were involved in a controversial project proposed by Chinese oil giant Sinopec to build an 11 billion dollar petrochemical plant outside Chengdu. Li¡¯s career was also marked by outrage following his move into a new office costing 177 million dollars in the days following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan in 2008.
Li Chuncheng is the first high-profile official to be investigated following Xi Jinping¡¯s appointment to General Secretary at the 18th Party Congress. Xi pledged to make fighting corruption, which he stated could prove a mortal threat to the Party, as a top priority of his administration. During Xi¡¯s second Politburo meeting this week, he unveiled new guidelines designed to stem the outbreak of corruption and ostentatious behavior by officials that has caused divisions in Chinese society. The new rules call for discouraging reporting on all movements of officials, officials now seeking permission to attend ribbon cutting ceremonies, avoiding ¡°red carpet¡± treatments on official visits and limiting the size of international entourages, and ensuring that official motorcades reduce traffic disruptions. The report also called on officials in government to avoid publishing their writings and to strictly observe rules pertaining to official housing and other benefits of officialdom. The new rules arrive on the same week as the annual Corruption Perceptions Index by Berlin-based nonprofit Transparency International, which saw China ranked 80th out of 176 countries surveyed, a five-place drop from the previous year.
(Asahi Shimbun, Guardian, New York Times, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, December 5)
Factory Fire Raises Questions about Workplace Safety, Conditions Facing Migrant Workers
An ex-employee of an underwear factory in Shantou City, approximately 300 miles east of Hong Kong in Guangdong Province, is suspected of starting a fire that killed 14 people this week. Liu Shuangyun is believed to have committed arson following a dispute over unpaid wages stretching back three years. Liu claims that he is owed 3000 yuan (480 dollars) and that the factory¡¯s managers consistently refused to pay him. A fifteenth person was seriously injured in the blaze, and 84 firefighters were needed to extinguish the conflagration. The Southern Metropolis Daily is reporting that all 14 fatalities were women between the ages of 18 and 20, but this account is disputed by Xinhua news service, which claims that one man was among the dead. Senior provincial officials announced the formation of an investigative team tasked to set up new fire safety measures to avoid future incidents. Hong Kong based group China Labour Bulletin said that the factory appeared to be a typical garment workshop where health and safety considerations are oft neglected. Liu Shuangyun is a 26-year-old migrant worker originally from Hunan province. Rights groups claim that unpaid salaries are a major source of discontent among migrant workers, especially in the current economic climate, and Liu¡¯s case underscores the subsistence lifestyle many end up living.
(New York Times, Washington Post, December 4; BBC, Guardian, South China Morning Post, December 5)
Brawls between Uyghur Vendors and Han Chinese Raises National Concerns
On December 3, 16 Uyghur vendors had a dispute which turned into a fight with a Han Chinese customer when selling a traditional Uyghur pastry ¡°Baklava,¡± or Qiegao in Chinese, in Yueyang, Hunan. The local police posted an announcement on its official Sina Weibo page (a Chinese version of twitter) saying that a compensation of 160,000 yuan was paid for the broken Baklava. Although the police later apologized for the ambiguous information of the announcement, this Weibo has been widely commented on and re-tweeted throughout China this week. On Wednesday, December 5, there was a similar quarrel in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. These incidents have triggered a wide discussion on Han-Uyghur relations and China¡¯s ethnic policy among the Han Chinese people.
Details of the brawl are limited. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the villager surnamed Ling, who was caught on Monday, had damaged 16 motorcycles, destroyed 2.76 tons of Baklava and injured two of the 16 Uyghur vendors in the dispute. But the media and netizens have focused more on ethnically-tinged reports. Many say that migrant Uyghur vendors in the inner Chinese cities cheat and extort Han Chinese customers to buy Baklava. They usually pretend to not understand Mandarin and bargain with customers by body language. Then they will show off their knives, or call up Uyghur vendors around, to threaten customers to pay a very high price for the Baklava. Besides, there are Uyghurs, some of whom are children, conducting theft and frauds in many Chinese cities. The local police in inner China are very reluctant to arrest and jail these Uyghurs considering the sensitivity of ethnic relations. They usually release and send those Uyghurs back to Xinjiang. Han Chinese are very unsatisfied with the rampant Uyghur related crimes and the ineffectiveness of police.
The two recent incidents, however small, reflect a long-term ethnic policy problem in China. The central government has been adopting a two-track policy towards ethnic minorities during the past twenty years. On one hand, it endows many economic and education privileges to the Uyghurs; on the other, it maintains relatively strong control over local politics in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as well as suppressing Uyghur religion and culture. In the regional aspect, it implements more intensive controls over the Uyghurs in Chinese border areas, while preventing local governments and police in inner China from intervening Uyghurs¡¯ movement and activities. The problematic policy and the increasing mistrust between the Han Chinese and the Uyghurs was powerfully demonstrated during the July 5th ethnic riot in Urumuqi, Xinjiang in 2009, which caused about 1000 deaths. Some media and analysts worry that the media coverage of the Uyghur-Han ethnic brawls may evoke more anger and distrust among the two groups, fearing that small incidents will lead to an another riot in Xinjiang.
(South China Morning Post, Radio Free Asia, December 4; Xinhua News Agency, December 5; Voice of America, December 6)
Summaries by Andrew Dirks, Xiaoyuan Li, and Dong Yu, China Program Interns at The Carter Center.