Petitioners Face Down Chinese Police as NPC Kicks Off


2005.03.04
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March 4, 2005. Paramilitary police peer from their bus window in Beijing on the eve of the annual parliament. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—Thousands of petitioners seeking redress from the Chinese government thronged outside key offices in central Beijing, as authorities rounded up, questioned or beat those with complaints ahead of the annual session of parliament March 5.

As the capital city cranked up security, China's leaders were focusing on tensions elsewhere, with a law forbidding independence for Taiwan due to be rubber stamped by the plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC).

The security for the two main complaints offices was really tight. There was an older woman from Henan Province who had been beaten up... There was another old lady—I don't know where she was from—who had been beaten up and was lying unconscious on the ground in a shop doorway.

Petitioners told RFA's Mandarin service that police vehicles and security personnel had been posted all along the route from the petitioners' squatter village near the southern railway station to the city center.

"The security for the two main complaints offices was really tight," a petitioner from northwest China said. "There was an older woman from Henan Province who had been beaten up... There was another old lady—I don't know where she was from—who had been beaten up and was lying unconscious on the ground in a shop doorway."

'Things have gone crazy'

"It was really brutal. Things have gone crazy," he told RFA reporter Lin Di.

Others said that thousands of petitioners had made it through tight security cordons to the State Council and Supreme Court complaints offices, in spite of a nationwide security alert aimed at detaining them before they reached the capital.

A woman from northeast China said tensions were running high between police and a crowd of petitioners that had been growing all week.

The CPPCC National Committee should hear opinions extensively from all walks of life on China's major policies as well as top issues in the country's political, economic, and cultural issues and major problems in social life.

"There are really a lot of petitioners today. More than the security personnel. There were around 200 police vehicles outside the complaints office of the State Council today, and more than 100 outside the complaints office of the Supreme Court," she said.

"There were security officers along every road and alleyway within 100 meters of the State Council. But today, there were more than 2,000 petitioners, too. It's as if the people and the government are facing off against each other, battling it out."

Less than a kilometer away, in the Great Hall of the People, Politburo Standing Committee member Jia Qinglin was addressing the opening of the NPC's advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

In a one-party system, the CPPCC is intended to function as a nationwide vehicle for political consultation.

A carrot and stick for Taiwan

Indeed, many of its delegates have been warning for years that the Communist Party is in serious danger of losing its grip on power, amid social unrest caused by rampant corruption, official abuse of power, and a growing gap between rich and poor.

As police and security volunteers warded off those with years of futile complaints processes behind them, Jia told delegates to be open to the views of all Chinese citizens.

"The CPPCC National Committee should hear opinions extensively from all walks of life on China's major policies as well as top issues in the country's political, economic, and cultural issues and major problems in social life," Jia said.

In his speech, President Hu Jintao appeared to extend an olive branch to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province awaiting reunification—a stance it calls the "one-China principle."

We'll get arrested. We just have to walk here and there. It's awful. We're not wearing enough clothes, and it's very cold in Beijing at the moment. We walk up and down by the side of the railway tracks, hiding if we see anybody, always hiding. Sleep? What sleep? The police are still there. We're not going to get any sleep. We could freeze to death.

"We welcome the efforts made by any individuals or any political parties in Taiwan toward the direction of recognizing the one-China principle," said Hu.

"No matter who he is and which political party it is, and no matter what they said and did in the past, we're willing to talk with them on issues of developing cross-Straits relations and promoting peaceful reunification as long as they recognize the one-China principle and the '1992 Consensus'," he added.

"Secondly, never give up efforts to seek peaceful reunification," Hu told the CPPCC members.

"A peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue and peaceful reunification of the motherland conforms to the fundamental interests of compatriots across the Taiwan Straits and the Chinese nation, as well as the currents of peace and development in the world today."

Repeated warnings on Taiwan

Peaceful reunification does not mean that one side "swallows" the other, but that the two sides confer on reunification through consultation on an equal footing, he stressed.

However, he also repeated Beijing's warnings that China would never tolerate a formal declaration of independence from the democratic island.

The NPC is scheduled to rubber-stamp a law during the forthcoming session, making it illegal for Taiwan to secede from China.

It will also hear and vote on work reports from top executive, judicial, and law enforcement officials and is likely to approve former president Jiang Zemin's resignation from his last official post, as chairman of the Central Military Commission, finalizing the handover of political power to Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Outside the gates of power, however, petitioners were fighting a losing battle to get their voices—and stories—heard.

'We'll get arrested'

An elderly woman from the eastern province of Jiangsu said she and her companions had nowhere to stay since police began nightly raids on the petitioners' village.

"We'll get arrested," said the woman, who said she had spent the night wandering the streets without sleep since the raids on the petitioner village. "We just have to walk here and there. It's awful. We're not wearing enough clothes, and it's very cold in Beijing at the moment."

"We walk up and down by the side of the railway tracks, hiding if we see anybody, always hiding. Sleep? What sleep? The police are still there. We're not going to get any sleep. We could freeze to death," the woman said.

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