China warns officials to prevent social unrest

Chinese labourers working at a steel market in Yichang, central China's Hubei province, on March 4, 2016.
Chinese labourers working at a steel market in Yichang, central China's Hubei province, on March 4, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Beijing fears mass protests as economic slowdown forecast to cost millions of jobs

BEIJING • The Chinese authorities have threatened to punish officials in charge of social order if unrest takes place under their watch, amid concerns over China's economic slowdown forecast to make millions of workers redundant, the media reported.

China vowed to hold "party and government leaders at all levels" accountable if mass incidents or public security incidents - often used as a euphemism for protests - occur, the Global Times said yesterday, citing a regulation released this week.

In cases of social unrest, officials will be reprimanded with a circulated notice, summoned for talks, given a deadline for improvement, ordered to resign or be dismissed, according to the regulation.

In the worst-case scenario, officials could be prosecuted for criminal offences, said the regulation issued by the General Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council.

"Due to the downturn in China's economy and a rise in the number of laid-off workers, certain social problems are likely to occur during this sensitive period," Mr Zhang Xixian, a professor from the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, told the Global Times.

A SPUR TO ACTION

Due to the downturn in China's economy and a rise in the number of laid-off workers, certain social problems are likely to occur during this sensitive period. The new regulation will push party and government leaders to actively resolve social conflict and nip problems in the bud.

MR ZHANG XIXIAN, a professor from the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

"The new regulation will push party and government leaders to actively resolve social conflict and nip problems in the bud.

"(It) will strengthen the government's role in preventing social problems, which is a timely response to the current situation."

His comments came a week after thousands of miners from a government-owned group marched through the streets of Shuangyashan, Heilongjiang province, in a protest over unpaid wages.

Following the march, steel workers in Jilin and miners in Shaanxi also demonstrated over unpaid wages, Chinese media reported.

Anticipating millions of layoffs from bloated state-owned coal and steel firms, the Chinese authorities are shunting redundant workers into jobs in farming, forestry and public services, Reuters said this week.

The government has earmarked 100 billion yuan (S$21 billion) for relocating and retraining state workers over two years, but with up to six million coal and steel jobs to be axed, those funds could be spread very thin, Reuters said.

Workers laid off from inefficient state-owned coal and steel firms will join those made redundant at private firms in struggling sectors such as textiles and apparel, which are shedding an estimated 400,000 employees a year.

Analysts said the release of the regulation is timed to prepare the party and the government to face mass protests and violence due to the likelihood of job losses.

"The new regulation has specified that officials will be held accountable for major criminal cases and mass incidents, which shows big progress compared with a regulation issued in 1993, the vagueness of which has led to officials passing the buck," Mr Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the Chongqing Committee, told the Global Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'China warns officials to prevent social unrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe