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China: The Paradox of Stability

by wpoon
10 June 2010

HONG KONG, June 10, 2010 - China spends more on its domestic security than
national security, according to sinologist Pei Minxin, as social stability tops
the agenda for authorities there.

Pei, the Professor
of Government & Director of the Keck
Center for International and Strategic
Studies at Claremont McKenna College told the Asia
Society Hong
Kong Center that "Stability
in China
is a very expensive proposition".

Pei argued that on a macro level China was relatively stable,
evident by the lack of organized opposition or external threat. "But at local level,
instability is everywhere. Riots and labor unrest is everywhere."

He noted that while there
were no pulbic statistics on how much was spent maintaining social stability,
he had recently come across some startling figures. "Based on an estimate
reached by scholars at Tsinghua
University, they claim that
domestic security spending last year was 514 billion dollars. It spends almost
as much on domestic security as it does on national security. China's defense
budget for last year was 530 billion dollars."

He added, "I say the
government probably spends more on domestic security as it does not include the
ad hoc spending in dealing with social unrest. In recent years the government has
become quite adapt at utilizing emergency spending to deal with social unrest

from financial cost, Pei
observed that local Chinese officials spent a significant amount of time
dealing with unrest. Beijing,
concerned that would-be aggrieved petitioners enter the capital to seek
redress, has instructed local authorities to bar petitioners from leaving the
provinces. This posed a major challenge for local authorities who have had to set
up points of interdiction at long distance bus and railway stations.

Pei underscored, "In order to keep petitioners
away from Beijing,
meetings of all departments are regularly held. Each day at 5 a.m., local
officials have to go to these stations and man them."

Pei pointed out a reason for
the lack of equilibrium was that "Local officials enjoy both unstrained power
and also job insecurity. It is a very bad combination. They are very powerful
and yet at the same time, they live in perpetual fear of getting fired. In
order to protect their power, local officials become even more abusive."

drive for economic growth had prompted many officials to instigate development
works simply to advance their careers, and according to Pei, had led to many conflicts such as land

Pei said the Chinese
government continued to project an omnipotent image with unlimited power to
solve all problems. However, this had led to high public expectations and in
many instances subject to blame when it failed to deliver.

noted the authorities' monopolistic hold over information had resulted in low
public credibility, and in times of crises, the public would rather believe rumors
rather than the official line.

scholar suggested several measures to remedy the problems embedded in the
governmental system. These included reinventing and modifying its image as
omnipotent, instead acknowledging its fallibility, limitations and admit its mistakes
when needed.

proposed allowing greater media freedom so the public could have more confidence
in local reporting. Pei
also called for the power of local officials to be limited while at the same
time, be given more job protection.

Reported by Penny Tang, Asia Society
Hong Kong Center