China's judicial authorities have called for a nationwide "stability" drive ahead of a crucial leadership transition later this year.
Justice minister Wu Aiying told judicial officials from across China that they should make "maintaining stability" their top priority as the ruling Chinese Communist Party gears up for its 18th Party Congress, for which exact dates have yet to be released.
Wu called for a slew of preventive measures to head any signs of social instability off "at the pass."
"Internal documents from central government have already given a series of guidelines that are fairly hard-line," said an online author surnamed Liu, who has been a target of some of the measures.
"In the run-up to the 18th Party Congress, the entire police system has been gearing up to ensure that there will be no unwanted incidents," he said.
"They do basically the same thing for every major event."
Official Chinese media quoted Wu as saying that the judiciary should "uphold stability during important times of the year and major tasks."
She also called for a strengthening of "grass-roots" stability measures, in an apparent reference to the use of citizen security volunteers during security clampdowns.
'Watch and follow'
Wu also called on law enforcement and judicial agencies to put the finishing touches to a nationwide "stability maintenance" system, which activists say includes nationwide access to the personal details of anyone considered a potential threat to stability.
"They will hire people to watch and follow people, to make covert reports and leak information, and turn up the pressure," Liu said.
He said China's mainstream judicial bodies appear now to be taking over the methods previously employed by the powerful politics and law committees of the Communist Party up and down the country.
China announced in March a rise of 11.5 percent in its domestic security budget to 701 billion yuan (U.S. $111 billion), with premier Wen Jiabao pledging a full modernization and expansion of the country's main riot-quelling force, the People's Armed Police.
Official documents leaked to the Chinese media have revealed that officials are typically ordered to step up intelligence activities among the local population and to focus in particular on "hostile foreign forces" who might try to collaborate with local activists to organize "subversive" gatherings during major events.
Local authorities are also likely to begin round-the-clock surveillance of Internet activity, along with monitoring of text messages and microblog posts, and to rapidly delete or block any offending content.
According to U.S.-based China analyst Li Hongkuan, China is already in the process of massive social change, and major upheavals could happen any time.
"It's pretty much common knowledge in all walks of life, from intellectuals to politicians, that the stability maintenance policy is the policy of failure," Li said.
"Scholars were saying 10 years ago that if they made changes back then, there would still be time to do something about [instability]," Li said.
"Nowadays, most academics are of the opinion that that opportunity has passed, and that it is too late, even if they made changes now."
A survey by the Party-backed think tank, the China Academy of Social Sciences, showed that there were more than 90,000 "mass incidents" across the country during the course of 2006. Since then, the government has been reluctant to make such figures public.
However, Li said that China's draconian domestic security measures were themselves a leading cause of social instability.
"Surveys of millions of petitioners have shown that their discontent is directly mostly at the police, the prosecution service, and the courts," he said.
"They mostly have to do with forced evictions and demolitions, and land acquisition," Li added.
"To try to cure instability with its main cause is really quite ridiculous."
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.