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Viewing cable 09BEIJING1970, RISE IN MASS INCIDENTS WORRISOME BUT NOT YET A THREAT TO OVERALL STABILITY, CONTACTS SAY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BEIJING1970 2009-07-13 10:10 2010-12-04 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beijing
VZCZCXRO5552
OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #1970/01 1941021
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 131021Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5146
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIJING 001970 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/13/2034 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ASEC CH
SUBJECT: RISE IN MASS INCIDENTS WORRISOME BUT NOT YET A THREAT TO OVERALL STABILITY, CONTACTS SAY 

REF: 08 BEIJING 2839 

Classified By: Acting Political Minster Counselor Ben Moeling. Reasons 
1.4 (b/d). 

Summary 
------- 

1. (C) A jump in the number of "mass incidents," or violent 
protests against local governments, in June is unrelated to 
the recent ethnic riots in Xinjiang and does not signal a 
threat to overall social stability, Embassy contacts report. 
However, violent incidents indicate serious discontent below 
the surface that will worsen over time. The underlying 
causes are longstanding citizen hostility toward local 
officials due to corruption and abuse of power in China's 
Communist Party-controlled political order. Moreover, vested 
interests are pushing their demands more aggressively during 
a year of politically sensitive anniversaries, calculating 
that the authorities will be more inclined to compromise in 
the interest of maintaining stability. The Party has 
responded by boosting anti-riot training for local officials, 
temporarily broadening the boundaries for expression of 
public opinion on the Internet while simultaneously targeting 
specific websites for tight control, and attempting to 
re-invigorate village elections. Contacts tell us that on 
campus, a tight student job market will not likely lead to 
destabilizing political activism in the short run, but the 
rise of left-wing nationalism is a trend to watch. The 
Xinjiang riots are different in kind and origin, but, like 
mass incidents, show the volatility of pent-up frustration 
and anger across China. End Summary. 

Violent Protests in June: Hubei and Jiangxi 
------------------------------------------- 

2. (C) A wave of new "mass incidents" (China's term for 
protest activity that the leadership views as threatening to 
stability) erupted in June in several parts of China and was 
widely reported in local media. In one of the two major 
incidents, a June 17-20riot in Shishou City, Hubei Province, 
was triggered by the mysterious death of a chef in a 
government-owned hotel. The number of rioters quickly 
swelled from a few dozen to thousands as rumors spread that 
the chef was murdered by the hotel manager, in league with 
city officials, for threatening to disclose an alleged drug 
ring run out of the hotel. The riot was quelled after 
hundreds of rioters were injured in clashes with security 
forces and many police vehicles were damaged or destroyed. 
Another large protest was staged by more than one hundred 
furniture makers in Nankang City, Jiangxi Province, on June 
15. The furniture makers gathered in front of the city 
government building to protest a new tax on the industry 
already hit hard by declining export demand. The Nankang 
demonstrators overturned police vehicles and blocked a major 
highway for several hours. The protest subsided the same day 
when municipal authorities rescinded the tax on orders from 
the provincial governor. 

Mass Incidents Are Not All the Same 
----------------------------------- 

3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX  emphasized to  PolOff on
June 26 that the Hubei and Jiangxi incidents,  respectively,
represented different kinds of social protests  even
though both were indicative of simmering discontent 
lying just below the surface of Chinese society. He said 
that Shishou was similar to the Weng'an riots in Guizhou 
Province last year in which pent-up anger toward the 
government erupted spontaneously in response to an event that 
had little or no relationship to the immediate concerns or 
grievances of the protestors. (Note. See ref: as many as 
30,000 protestors rioted for several days in June 2008, 
destroying the Wengan Party headquarters and other official 
property. The local Party Secretary eventually resigned.) 
While disturbing to the leadership, such events were 
nonetheless isolated, localized incidents that could be 
contained, XXXXXXXXXXXX observed. The violence in
Jiangxi, on the  other hand, represented a systemic problem, in
XXXXXXXXXXXX  view. 
This kind of protest was more dangerous, he said, because it 
was issue-driven and affected interests that cut across local 
and regional boundaries, and hence held the potential to 
spread to other areas. 

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said it was very difficult 
to assess the overall impact of mass incidents on social 
stability, but, like XXXXXXXXXXXX, he stressed the
importance of  distinguishing between the spontaneous,
random violence of  Weng'an and Shishou and protests
driven by the clash of 

BEIJING 00001970 002 OF 004 


"vested interests" (liyi you guanfang). In a meeting with 
PolOff on June 30, XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Weng'an-type
 riots tended  to be "seasonal" in nature, occurring during the
summer when  lots of people were in the streets. The Jiangxi
protest, on the other hand, was triggered by those with veste
 interests  of all kinds. XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that there
had been many such  protests recently: In addition to the widely
publicized  taxi-driver strikes in several provinces, there had been
bus driver strikes, elementary and middle-school teacher strikes 
(Chongqing), and wharf worker and boatmen strikes (in 
Guizhou), among others, all of which involved disputes over 
salaries. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the timing of these strikes
and protests  was deliberate. Once Party leaders had declared 2009
a year of sensitive anniversaries and had called for redoubled 
efforts to ensure "harmony" and stability, people pressed 
hard for the government to satisfy their demands, calculating 
that authorities would be more responsive in order to 
maintain stability. 

Underlying Cause: China's Party System 
-------------------------------------- 

5. (C) The heart of the problem, XXXXXXXXXXXX explained,
was a  political order that gave local officials enormous power, 
including control over the distribution of wealth and the 
resources to ensure that their own interests were well 
served. As a result, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, this "structural 
contradiction" had resulted in a long-term hostile 
environment, characterized by a breakdown of trust between 
local officials and residents and near-total lack of official 
credibility. When officials spoke, XXXXXXXXXXXX said,
"no one pays  attention" because "no one believes anything
a cadre says."  In his view, this situation unfairly penalized those 
officials who were capable and honest, with a recent case in 
Zhengzhou, Henan province being the most recent example. In 
a slip of the tongue that brought the point home, a Zhengzhou 
official became the focus of Internet praise and ridicule 
when he admitted in a public exchange with a reporter that 
China's media and local officials served the interests of the 
Party rather than the people. In response to a state-owned 
radio reporter's criticism of city officials for illegally 
building luxury villas on land that had been allocated for 
low-income housing, the official angrily shot back "for whom 
do you speak, the Party or the people," with the clear 
implication that he and the reporter both spoke for the 
Party. The reporter, apparently not realizing the 
implications of the remark, published it as an example of 
imperious officialdom. Some netizens praised the official 
for speaking the truth while others mocked him for blatantly 
ignoring the interests of ordinary people. The phrase "for 
whom do you speak" became the catch phrase of the day on the 
Internet, a symbol of people's deep distrust of officials and 
anger at the systemic disregard for rule of law and citizen 
rights. This was a "structural" problem, XXXXXXXXXXXX
repeated,  embedded in the nature of the cadre system, which
even  President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had so far
been unable to crack, despite robust efforts. The situation could 
only get worse before it gets better, XXXXXXXXXXXX
 concluded, thus,  "we can expect more and more "mass incidents." 

6. (C XXXXXXXXXXXX, too, asserted that "structural 
contradictions" lay at the heart of the mass incident 
problem. People saw official machinations, corruption, or 
avarice behind every negative event, he said, noting the 
recent collapse of a 13-story building in Shanghai as the 
most recent example of this mindset. Shanghai was one of 
China's better-run cities, with an experienced and savvy 
cadre force and a clean Party Secretary, XXXXXXXXXXXX
opined, but  people immediately jumped to the conclusion
that corruption  was the culprit. (Note: Chinese media have since
reported  that the collapse was caused by inept construction
workers  who allowed dirt to pile up on one side of the building
even  as they excavated a deep hole on the other side.) However, 
this lack of trust and credibility showed a deeper flaw in 
China's political order. As a result, XXXXXXXXXXXX
 predicted, more  mass incidents lay ahead. Although people
blamed local  officials for their problems and still viewed the
central  government as their last hope for redress of grievances
 this  could change if the financial crisis persisted. 

Rights Lawyer: no Threat to Stability 
------------------------------------- 

7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX  told PolOffs on June 23 that
he thought that mass incidents  had not reached a stage
where they posed a threat to China's  overall stability. 
While they represented an expression of general anger
over citizens' personal situations and deep  resentment
toward Party officials, they were still localized. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX said the underlying dynamic was
a self-perpetuating cycle 

BEIJING 00001970 003 OF 004 


of violence and counter-violence on both sides born of a 
"contradiction" in citizen-official relationships. If local 
authorities were actually to follow the law, he observed, 
this would mean relaxing control and allowing more freedom of 
expression. People would respond by criticizing the 
government or by making demands that authorities were not 
willing to meet. Thus, XXXXXXXXXXXX explained,
authorities kept a  tight lid on all social discontent which in
turn fostered  seething resentment that periodically erupte
 into violent  protest. The official response to these protests often 
amplified popular anger and frustration, thus continuing the 
cycle. There will be no "Chinese Gorbachev," he exclaimed, 
no breakthrough in the short term. The only answer, in
XXXXXXXXXXXX’s  view, was continued, gradual, and
patient education in "the  spirit of rule of law" among the people
to eliminate their  "slave mentality." 

Cadre Training, Internet Control, Local Elections 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the "lessons of Weng'an,"
both  positive and negative, had been carefully studied by
central authorities and that, in anticipation of an upsurge in 
protests this year, the central government had launched an 
ambitious program of anti-riot and crowd-control training for 
local officials. Three thousand county level administrators, 
3,000 county-level public security directors, 2,000 
county-level discipline inspection directors and 500 local 
procuratorate cadres had already completed such training in 
Beijing. They were in turn expected to train the relevant 
personnel in subordinate jurisdictions. 

9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX also claimed that the Party had bee
 following a  carefully calibrated approach to Internet control
during the  year, especially in the runup to National Day,
allowing more  general expression of public opinion, while
targeting specific websites for close monitoring. The highly 
publicized webchats with netizens conducted by Hu Jintao and 
Wen Jiabao earlier in the year were designed to reinforce the 
public perception that top leaders were encouraging greater 
public discussion on the Internet, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX  himself had noticed a significant uptick
in the volume of  Internet chatter, including provocative
commentary on sensitive issues. (Note: Recent examples include
an article  in the June 1 issue of the Xinhua-owned news weekly
Outlook  Weekly (Liaowang) analyzing the factors that contribute
 to mass incidents and predicting a significant increase of such 
events this year; and a blog by a Shishou official who was 
critical of the city government's efforts to "mislead the 
public" by blaming the riot on local criminals. The official 
called for an objective analysis of the causes of the riots, 
which he attributed to poor government and police corruption 
in Shishou, to prevent such events in the future.) 

10. (C) At the same time, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, the Party
was targeting  "ideological" and "protest" websites of both the
right and  the left for more aggressive monitoring. In addition to
the usual practice of issuing propaganda guidance by telephone, 
text message, or by directives to select webmasters, 
propaganda authorities were now designating specific websites 
as sites of special concern. He said that the State Council 
and Beijing Information Offices recently convened a meeting 
of Internet monitors to discuss tight control of seven 
websites: Two ultra-left sites, Utopia (wuyou zhi xiang) and 
Maoflag; a site featuring a wide range of reform-oriented 
urban middle-class views, Boke (Bokee); and four sites with a 
"liberal" reputation frequented by professionals and 
intellectuals: Xici, Tianya, Tianyi, and China Elections. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX; XXXXXXXXXXXX said that he had
been told by a friend with Internet monitoring responsibility
that there would be a drastic tightening up on Internet content
next year, once the sensitive commemoration season was over. 

11. (C) Taking a somewhat different tack, XXXXXXXXXXXX
 told PolOff on XXXXXXXXXXXX that, in light of
high-profile  unrest incidents, the Communist Party was
looking to  revitalize village elections as a means of relieving
social  pressures and providing a nonviolent outlet to political 
grievances. Specifically, the Party's Central Organization 
Department had recently convened a meeting on ensuring 
compliance with existing legislation mandating regular 
village elections. In recent years apathy and corruption on 
the part of local officials had resulted in many villages 
failing to hold elections as required by law. According to 
XXXXXXXXXXXX, the Party viewed this as a dangerous
trend  that could  exacerbate the simmering grievances.
Nonetheless, XXXXXXXXXXXX was  not optimistic that
village elections could realize the  Party's goal of reducing
the frequency of unrest. 

BEIJING 00001970 004 OF 004 



Student Activism: Leftist Nationalism, Not Employment 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 

12. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said he didn't foresee a stability
problem emerging from the tight job market for graduating
college students, but he was concerned about the increase of
"radical  nationalism" and a "leftward drift" among college
students that could lead to destabilizing student activism in the 
future. Graduating seniors and graduate students at China's 
elite universities were having no trouble finding jobs, he 
said, although those from second- and third-tier universities 
were running into greater obstacles. However, potential 
discontent over job pressure was offset by the many graduates 
who had responded to the Party's call, and incentives, to 
take jobs in the hinterland and by the thousands more who 
were lining up to join the military. Growing student 
nationalism, on the other hand, was a trend to be concerned 
about, in XXXXXXXXXXXX's view, especially when wedded to
"leftist" politics. He said he had warned Party leaders that the 
student threat of the future would not come from 
pro-democracy activists but from the anti-democratic left who 
may take to the streets to demand a return to "true 
socialism." XXXXXXXXXXXX estimated that as many
as 20 percent of  the students at People's University were
"left-leaning  radical nationalists." Many, he said, were active
on the  ultra-left web portal "Utopia" where they posted
comments  under the rubric of "the alliance of citizens
on the left"  (gongmin zuo lianmeng). 

Mass Incidents Are Not Ethnic Riots 
----------------------------------- 

13. (C) Ethnic riots like those in Xinjiang July 5-7 and in 
Tibet in March of 2008 differ markedly in origin and nature 
from mass incidents, XXXXXXXXXXXX emphasized to 
PolOff on XXXXXXXXXXXX. Both present serious problems
for the  Party, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, but the Party
leadership would not hesitate  to open fire on Uighurs or
Tibetans if they deemed it  necessary to restore order.
Mass incidents pose a different  kind of threat, he said,
as the leadership is "afraid" to  fire on Han rioters for fear
of sparking massive public  outrage that would turn against
the Party. XXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOff on
XXXXXXXXXXXX  that the Xinjiang riots and the June
mass incidents were  different in kind but shared an important
similarity. In her  view, at least some rioters in Xinjiang
took to the streets  because of general discontent unrelated to
the immediate  cause of the violence. Han people do not hate
Uighurs and  are not looking for revenge, she said, but some
people "can always find an excuse to express their grievances." 



GOLDBERG