Beijing must buy stability, warns academic

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 12:00am

China needs to 'buy' stability by expanding its social security coverage, according to a mainland economist.

Professor Hu Angang, of Beijing's Tsinghua University, said although Beijing had increased its expenditure on social security by more than five times since 1998, much more had to be done to cater to the needs of low-income groups.

From 1995 to last year, about 54 million jobs - more than the entire population of South Korea - were cut from state and collective-owned enterprises in the cities, Professor Hu said, adding comprehensive social security coverage for those laid off was necessary to meet their needs and prevent social instability.

Professor Hu is the co-author of 'The Most Severe Warning: Social Instability Behind the Economic Prosperity', a report warning that growing discontent among low-income groups, such as laid-off workers and farmers, could throw China into turmoil.

Although the report warns that a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen student uprising - or an Indonesian-style social crisis - is likely if the government fails to introduce stronger measures to curb social injustice, Professor Hu said the message was intended as a wake-up call.

'We give the warnings because we don't want to see China collapse,' he said.

He said social justice had become a major concern among academics as it was obvious that economic development alone was not enough to bring about social stability.

The report said laid-off workers were increasingly marginalised amid the polarisation of society.

Their anger was fuelled by social injustice such as rampant corruption, which represented a yearly loss of nearly 15 per cent of gross domestic product between 1999 and last year.

A survey cited in the report also found that an increasing number of low-income earners would consider what it deemed drastic action - such as demonstrations or strikes - to voice discontent, according to the report.

In the survey, conducted last year, 16.2 per cent of respondents who were not happy with conditions said they would take to the streets to express their anger, while 5.1 per cent said they would strike.

In 2000, only 7.1 per cent of the disgruntled respondents said they would protest on the streets, while 1.6 per cent said they would strike.