Sichuan repression signals fear of social explosion

Tens of thousands in China's southwestern city of Linshui marched May 16, to be attacked by riot police, leading to street clashes that  continued long into the night. The protest was called to demand that a proposed rail line linking Dazhou to Chongqing pass through the city in central Sichuan, which currently has no rail access or airport. Authorities recently announced that the route will instead go through Guangan, seemingly chosen because it is the birthplace of Deng Xiaoping. Epoch Times puts the number of demonstrators at 30,000, and Hong Kong's The Standard reports that five are dead—including a schooolgirl. Radio Austrailia has amazing video footage of brutal police charges, which have apaprently been making the rounds on Weibo and other social media in China. Photos at Revolution News (similarly taken by citizen journalists) show the march filling the streets—with big professionally made banners. Even the most complete English-language account, at South China Morning Post, does not make clear who called and organized the march.

Unrest in China is now practically ongoing. More wildcat strikes hit the mining sector last month. Several thousand coal miners from the state-owned Longmei Group walked off the job and took to the streets in Qitaihe, Heilongjiang, to demand payment of three months wages in arrears. Clashes with police broke out as workers refused to disperse, and the protest continued sporadically for at least one week. On April 25, more than 600 coal miners near the Shandong city of Jining staged a protest over four months' wage arrears and the non-payment of pension contributions. Coal is apprently the sector worst hit by China's slowdown, with output declining 3.5% this year to 850 million tons in the first quarter. (China Labour Bulletin, April 29)

In March, at least 5,000 went on strike at the Stella Shoe factory in Dongguan, Guangdong, which produces for Nike, Timberland and other popular brands. Workers were demanding the company pay its government-mandated monthly housing allowance.  (China Labour Net, March 15) warns "China is in a hard landing now"…

For China's one-party dictatorship (CCP), 2015 is turning into quite a dangerous year. After years of rapid debt-driven growth and the world's biggest construction boom, China's economy faces a multitude of serious problems. Overcapacity, deflation, a housing slump and local government debt crisis are all acting as a drag on economic growth which by several measures has slowed to a crawl.

The repression in Linshui may signal fear of a social explosion on the part of China's rulers. And leaders thusly motivated often end up creating exactly what they fear.

  1. More mass protests in China

    Thousands of people took to the streets in an industrial suburb of Shanghai on June 27 to protest government plans to build a chemical plant. Officials have assured that the plant slated for the Jinshan district will not produce PX, a chemical used in making polyester fibre and plastics. But protesters, who had already been taking to the streets for a week, vowed to continue their campiagn until the plant is cancelled. Residents marched though the streets shouting "Go people of Jinshan!" Some carried signs reading "No good chemical plant." Said one protester: "This whole area is surrounded by chemical plants. I've had family members die of cancer and I bet everyone here has someone who has died of cancer. We're doing this for the younger generation." (Reuters)

  2. Worker unrest in Shandong on the rise as economy slows

    Worker unrest in the eastern coastal province of Shandong is on the rise with the number of strikes and protests recorded on China Labour Bulletin’s strike map in July standing at 18, second only to the industrial powerhouse of Guangdong with 23.

    There were a total of 125 strike and protests in Shandong in the first seven months of the year, with similar numbers recorded in the neighboring provinces of Henan and Jiangsu. Guangdong, with 193 incidents so far this year, remains the main centre of worker activism in China but other regions are clearly catching up.

    About 75% of the disputes in Shandong this year have been at least partially related to wage arrears, suggesting that this traditional manufacturing and industrial region is struggling to adapt to the "new normal" of slower economic growth in China. (CLB, Aug. 5)

  3. IMF sees China “transition to market-based economy”

    International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, speaking in Jakarta, dismissed the notion that the Chinese economy is having a meltdown. She described the economy as slowing down "not sharply, and not unexpectedly," and added: "The transition to a more market-based economy and the unwinding of risks built up in recent years is complex and could well be somewhat bumpy."

    In a report issued last month, the IMF said that the Chinese economy is entering a slower but more sustainable growth mode. However, it called for more reforms and less government intervention. (China Daily, Sept. 2)