Rural crime crackdown
BEIJING will dispatch emergency teams to six provinces to tackle an unprecedented erosion of law and order in the countryside.
The authorities indicated yesterday the Central Commission for the Comprehensive Management of Social Order had decided to send 'inspection teams' to Hebei, Jilin, Shaanxi, Anhui, Yunnan and Hubei later this month.
The commission, the Communist Party's highest authority on law enforcement, has also ruled that the performance of regional cadres be assessed on the basis of how well they have combated 'local ruffians, village warlords, vagabonds and evil forces'.
The national media yesterday quoted senior officers of the People's Armed Police (PAP) as saying the para-military force was on alert to 'safeguard national stability and economic construction'.
In a dispatch last night, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) said the goal of the six crack units was to 'assiduously strengthen foundation work in grassroots [party cells] and to forcefully rectify villages where the conditions of social order are chaotic'.
Xinhua added the success of the campaign would be directly linked to a local cadre's chances of promotion.
An individual's awards, benefits and bonuses could also be dictated by the assessment.
Sources close to the security establishment said it was the first time since the Cultural Revolution Beijing had dispatched such work teams to the villages.
They said Communist Party officials had failed to stop the growth of rural underground organisations, including clans, triad societies, clandestine sects and what the authorities call 'feudal fiefdoms'.
These 'evil forces' have been responsible for gang warfare, kidnapping, smuggling, slavery and drugs and weapons production and trafficking.
In regions including Hebei, Yunnan and Sichuan, the underground rings have mushroomed thanks to their ability to attract disgruntled peasants who refuse to pay taxes or to sell their produce to government procurers because of arguments over prices.
Small-scale armed clashes between these underground forces and law-enforcement units such as the PAP had been reported in these provinces.
Top leaders including President Jiang Zemin have warned the growth of these 'rural fiefdoms' would pose a direct threat to the administration.
Last autumn, the leadership vowed to regain control over the countryside by resuscitating the nation's estimated 800,000 grassroots party cells, which were described as 'weak and lax'.
Internal reports, however, have stated that county and village cadres prefer spending time on their own businesses rather than risking their lives fighting the triads and 'warlords'.
Meanwhile, in a frank statement, PAP commander General Ba Zhongtan indicated that the main task of his one-million-strong force was to fight crime, particularly gang-related felonies.
'PAP troops will do their utmost for the nation's stability,' General Ba, a protege of Mr Jiang, was quoted as saying.
It is understood the State Council and the Central Military Commission are mapping out a multi-dimensional contingency plan to combat security threats.
This includes the deployment of soldiers, reserves, PAP officers, police and anti-riot squads.
The Ministry of Public Security, which controls the police, is seen as inadequate in ensuring order in both urban and rural areas.
Since the winter, provincial cadres from a few central and western provinces have written to the Politburo Standing Committee about a growing number of flashpoints.
The cadres have pinpointed problems such as galloping rural inflation, rising discontent against government grain procurers and the yawning disparity between the incomes of urban workers and peasants.