Stability, Not Reform, at NPC

Chinese officials stress stability at an annual lawmakers session amid a popular call for reform.

npc2011_305.jpg Delegates arrive for the opening session of the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 5, 2011.

China's leaders are boosting national spending on domestic security to ensure social stability in major cities and troubled ethnic minority regions, amid a spate of calls for protests against the ruling Communist Party.

Made nervous by a forthcoming succession of power and a wave of popular movements sweeping the Middle East, the National People's Congress (NPC) began its annual session in Beijing at the weekend amid unprecedented security.

Stability appeared very much on the leadership's mind, as President Hu Jintao told delegates on Sunday that China would boost investment in Tibet, ahead of a sensitive anniversary.

"Meticulous efforts must be paid to the tasks of reform, development and stability to (bolster) development and maintain perennial stability in Tibet," official media quoted Hu as saying.

Sensitive anniversary

March 10 will mark 52 years since the start of the Tibetan uprising in 1959 in which thousands surrounded the Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa.

According to overseas rights groups, more than 85,000 Tibetans were killed by Chinese armed forces in a few days.

The anniversary sparked further demonstrations in 2008, which erupted into rioting in Lhasa and then spread to other Tibetan regions of China.

Among the projects slated are a new railway between Golmud in northwestern Qinghai province and Korla in Xinjiang, shortening the rail journey by around 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

Security was tight in both Tibet and Xinjiang following online calls for pro-democracy gatherings inspired by the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia that sparked similar protests elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.

An employee who answered the phone at the Southern Airlines ticket desk in Hong Kong confirmed that journalists would be unable to book tickets to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, unless they had prior government approval.

"I'm sorry, but we are unable to make the booking in these circumstances," she said. "It's as if there is some kind of festival going on there or something."

She said journalists booking tickets to Tibet had to show an entry permit letter from the Chinese police.

Uyghurs detained

Meanwhile, authorities in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang detained two Muslim Uyghurs after they discussed recent popular uprisings in the Middle East on the popular chat service QQ.

The men were detained after censors closed a chatroom containing messages which read "Uyghurs should have the courage of those in the Middle East to change their lives," and "Why should we continue to put up with Han [Chinese] oppression?" according to an overseas Uyghur group.

"On the evening of March 6 ... near the University of Xinjiang, national security police detained two young Uyghur men on suspicion of 'using the Internet to spread information harmful to state security'," said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.

"One was a young man from Kuche," Raxit said. "We don't yet know exactly where they are being held."

Controlling 'mass incidents'

Premier Wen Jiabao's report to the NPC focused on easing economic disparities across China, including in Tibet and Xinjiang.

China has previously admitted that it sees hundreds of thousands of "mass incidents" annually, in which people came out in protest at official actions, including forced evictions, land sales without compensation and alleged corruption.

Beijing's spending on domestic security surpassed the military budget for the first time, rising to 624.4 billion yuan (U.S. $95.3 billion) this year, compared with the People's Liberation Army budget of 601.1 billion yuan (U.S. $91.4 billion).

"We must make improving the people's lives a pivot linking reform, development and stability," Wen told NPC delegates.

"And make sure people are content with their lives and jobs, society is tranquil and orderly and the country enjoys long-term peace and stability."

Wen's draft of the 12th five-year plan promises to create around nine million jobs for urban residents, while extending greater help to rural communities.

Spending criticized

Top Chinese economist and social critic Mao Yushi said he was opposed to the high level of spending on social stability and law enforcement.

"I don't want to pay taxes if they are going to take that tax money and set up organizations and hire people to interfere with my civil liberties," Mao said.

He said the government's huge infrastructure spending program of recent years had also failed to yield high-quality investments.

Meanwhile, Chinese constitutional scholar Zhang Boshu said media coverage of the NPC had focused on the pageantry of a high-level government meeting, with nothing but praise for the ruling Communist Party.

"The delegates are running here and there holding news conferences in praise of Premier Wen Jiabao's annual work report," Zhang said.

"But surely they are here to scrutinize the work report and central government documents? he said.

"They are supposed to be supervising the work of the government, and for that, surely they need to criticize it," he added.

"So far, there has been nothing but praise in the media."

The 10-day gathering of the NPC in Beijing's Great Hall of the People began on Saturday, during which the 3,000 hand-picked delegates will approve Wen's plan for the next five years.

Reported by Ding Xiao, Sun Jian and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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