Threat of unrest worries province

Chris Yeung

INFLATION, a worsening crime problem and disputes among religious sects threaten the social order of the impoverished western province of Shaanxi, provincial deputies to the NPC said yesterday.

Already trailing behind other parts of the country in the pace of economic growth, the province has also complained of the dearth of financial backing from the central Government and increased burden under the new tax reforms.

The grievances dominated a group discussion by Shaanxi deputies of the Government Work Report at the Great Hall of the People yesterday.

Speaking after hearing the complaints, Shaanxi Governor Bai Qingcai lent weight to the central policy, however.

''We still support the policy of the central Government to boost its financial strength. It will be helpful to the less economically developed regions,'' he said.

''Growth is a matter of time. The coastal regions have started earlier but we will be able to catch up. We are parts and the state is whole. We have to position ourself in the whole and to give a full play to our own potential,'' the Governor said.

Mr Bai also stressed that the overall situation in the province was stable.

''Some people might have their own grievances and take it to the Government. . . . Some also suffered from the delay of payment of their wages. We have already urged all localities to pay attention to the problem,'' he said.

The Mayor of Xian, the capital city of Shaanxi, Cui Litao, has warned that several factors have increased the possibility of social unrest in the city this year, including the prospect of prices going beyond levels that workers can bear.

Although last year's annual inflation of 12.7 per cent was lower than in the coastal regions and major cities, Mr Cui said price controls should be strengthened as market economic reform deepened.

''If we can keep good control over prices there should be no major problems this year,'' he said.

The mayor also pointed to factors such as deteriorating law and order, corruption and delays and failure to pay wages and pensions to workers in some money-losing enterprises.

''Together with civil disputes, they are elements that might cause instability,'' Mr Cui said.

He said many people had complained that the public security body was ''in a mess''.

He admitted a few public security officers were corrupt, but said the police force was sound as a whole.

Pang Jiayu, head of the large city of Baoji, cast doubt on whether the Government would be able to keep inflation down to 10 per cent.

''We must ensure the adequate supply of commodities. Otherwise, it will create major conflicts,'' he said.

He said conflicts among religious sects in the province might also create further disturbances.

Another delegate from Xian, Yu Xiaowen, said the province could not rely on its own funds entirely and needed money from the central Government.

''If stability in Shaanxi cannot be maintained, it will affect the whole northwestern region,'' she said.