Dongguan Mayor Yuan Baocheng claimed municipal leaders were unaware of the extent of the local sex trade, but admitted blame for failing to curb prostitution in a place now dubbed “sin city”.
“There is no need to deny the existence of vice activities,” he told CCTV on Tuesday, the same state broadcaster that exposed Dongguan’s rampant sex trafficking and generated headlines worldwide in February, much to officials’ embarrassment.
“But to be frank, it being so rampant or so prevalent as reported in the television programme – even we didn’t know that,” Yuan said.
While he conceded that municipal officials may have failed to keep the sex trade in check, Yuan denied that they intentionally ignored the problem. He claimed lower-level cadres were more to blame.
“From the attitudes of our Communist Party committee members and municipal leaders, I think there is no one [among them] who has turned a blind eye to [prostitution]. This is a judgment,” he said. “But among grass-roots cadres, I think there is [that] problem.”
The ensuing citywide crackdown also revealed that vice-related businesses, based in gambling houses, massage parlours, saunas and even luxury hotels, contributed a substantial amount – an estimated 50 billion yuan (HK$63 billion) a year, analysts say – to the local economy, earning the mainland’s manufacturing hub the title of “China’s sex trade capital”.
He said he was confident there would not be a slowdown and that Dongguan could still achieve its goal of 9 per cent GDP growth this year, on the back of improving economies in the West and support from the central government.
Dongguan launched a three-month clampdown on prostitution networks and has vowed to punish officials found protecting the syndicates.
As of late last month, 865 suspects (541 of whom are accused of running prostitution businesses) have been arrested, 60 criminal gangs have been busted and more than 3,000 hotels, saunas and massage parlours have lost their licences, according to police figures.
The authorities, however, were criticised for launching this campaign only recently and allowing the sex industry to thrive for years.
In early February, the city’s former deputy mayor and police chief, Yan Xiaokang, were both sacked, while some 10 police officers were punished for failing to curb prostitution.
Many hotels suspected of abetting prostitution rings have closed. Today, the once-bustling commerce area of Shanmei Road in Houjie Town is quiet, with many shop spaces up for rent.
But the crackdown does not end after the three-month campaign, Yuan said, vowing to adopt “surprising” measures and show zero tolerance for vice.
Video: The CCTV news report exposing Dongguan's sex trade