Hush money only exacerbates unrest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 December, 2010, 12:00am

For any country, even one with over a billion people and an ever-expanding economy, government spending of more than 500 billion yuan a year is a lot of money. And yet that was the amount the central government spent in 'ensuring social stability' last year, nearly as much as its military spending. Maintaining social stability is often used as a justification for stifling of dissent and the muffling of aggrieved voices. And it appears this is considered as important as national defence.

It is no surprise that the government is spending more on what is becoming an increasingly difficult and arguably futile task. Now that China has embraced new communication technologies, more and more people are able to share what may previously have been passed off as isolated incidents. When someone suffers injustice they might feel resigned to the fact that they were plain unlucky to have crossed a particularly rotten official. But when they can read similar stories on internet forums they realise they are not an anomaly and that many more suffer similar injustices. They find their experience was no unhappy coincidence. The priority it often seems is to protect the government's reputation rather than resolve injustices.

Discontent over social injustice and abuses of power has been welling up after a series of notable incidents which were widely reported on the internet. Most recently an assistant librarian, who exposed how the son of two high-powered Communist Party members mysteriously landed an enviable job despite his poor academic record, was arrested. Thankfully, the librarian has now been released and two local police chiefs who ordered the arrest sacked. In another case, the son of a police chief in Hebei knocked down and killed a student while drink-driving. When stopped by security guards, the son declared: 'My father is Li Gang ,' referring to the local police chief. Witnesses quickly reported this and 'My father is Li Gang' became a catchphrase for social injustice in China. But despite the furore, justice was still denied. Mainland reporters were banned from further investigating the incident and the Li family paid the family of the victim, 460,000 yuan to prevent a full trial.

Justice was also denied regarding Zhao Lianhai , who became an activist when he tried to bring attention to the devastating effects of melamine-tainted milk which made around 300,000 children sick, including his young son. Zhao was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for 'provoking quarrels and making trouble'. Instead of responding to the outrage by reviewing the judicial process, the authorities appear to have prevented Zhao from filing an appeal so that he can be offered medical parole instead in a face-saving measure. To add insult to injury, a Xinhua statement in response to the public outrage poignantly noted that 'minor cases' like his had already been paid 2,000 yuan.

It is disheartening to see the country, while making such leaps and bounds in so many other areas of development, resort to resolving injustices with hush money. The more money that is used for these purposes the greater the evidence that the judicial system is failing. Social stability is of the utmost importance in any country, but preventing people from seeking access to justice will exacerbate unrest not defuse it. If the central government has 500 billion yuan to spare, surely it has sufficient resources to allow its citizens find outlets for their discontent and seek ways to redress injustice. It is only when the public has confidence in their justice system can it being said there is social harmony.