Dongguan Sex Trade Crackdown 'Only Part of the Story'

china-dongguan-raid-feb-2014.jpg Workers at an entertainment venue in Dongguan crouch by a wall during a police raid on Feb. 9, 2014.

A recent raid on prostitution dens in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan did little to expose the plight of sex workers and all pervasive links between the country's roaring sex trade and official corruption, Chinese commentators said on Thursday.

More than 6,700 police officers raided saunas, hotels, massage parlors, and karaoke bars over the weekend, shuttering 12 major entertainment venues and detaining dozens of people amid an ongoing prostitution crackdown in southern China, official media reported.

The raid, which was triggered by an investigative report by state-run China Central Television (CCTV), made headlines around the world as a crackdown on China's "sin city," packed with casinos, bathhouses, and brothels where an estimated 300,000 sex workers ply their trade.

Guangdong authorities are now planning similar raids in other cities.

Treating the symptoms, not the disease

But rights activists and political commentators said police raids only deal with the symptoms, not the disease, which they said is linked to endemic official corruption which protects the sex trade, as well as providing it with affluent clients.

"They can't clean it up, because ... official corruption and fraud are protected as state secrets [in China]," Dongguan-based rights activist Xie Shouxiang told RFA's Cantonese Service after the raid.

"If these places didn't have police protection, they couldn't possibly still be in business," Xie said.

Women's rights activist Ye Haiyan said police raids did little to help China's sex workers, who she described as a vulnerable population.

"CCTV is taking the moral high ground here to evaluate this industry and this group of people," Ye said. "They should rather turn their sights on those in the background [of the industry], including National People's Congress (NPC) deputies, shareholders, and those with official connections."

Ye, who founded the non-government group Chinese Women's Rights, said that the least powerful people in the sex trade, the sex workers themselves, always bore the brunt of law enforcement raids.

"They're the ones dragged in front of the lens, to have their shame recorded on camera [for all to see]," Ye said.

Hong Kong media reports said that only relatively low-ranking officials and police officers looked set to lose their jobs over Dongguan's status as the "sex capital" of China, while local government leaders had been given little more than a talking-to.

Political interests

Guangzhou-based writer Ye Du said China periodically launches anti-prostitution and anti-pornography campaigns, but that these are similar to political movements, and do little to address the roots of the industry in official corruption.

"This pillar industry of Dongguan's has already become riddled with vested interests, both official and private sector," Ye Du said. "Officials are merely pretending not to know what went on."

"A lot of people think this raid had to do with a political power struggle [within the government]," he said, adding that those who ordered the raid might have intended to strike a political blow against the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Guangdong provincial secretary Hu Chunhua, whose political faction linked to the former president has been on the wane since the leadership transition of November 2012.

"The princelings [linked to current president Xi Jinping] don't want to see any of these Communist Youth League or grassroots officials make up to leadership rank in the sixth generation," Ye Du said.

"So it's quite possible that this was all aimed at Hu."

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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