Chinese security personnel are out in force across Xinjiang in preparation for a sensitive meeting of top party lawmakers.
Authorities in China’s troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have boosted security patrols and military-style barricades across the capital, Urumqi, as police stepped up security checks on ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs, residents and activists said.
Photos taken by residents and seen by RFA showed row upon row of patrolling security personnel on the boulevards and alleyways of the city, as well as in the farmers’ markets.
A banner hung on the wall of a residential compound reads: “Fight the good fight for a secure 18th Party Congress.” The congress will convene on Nov. 8 for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
According to one Urumqi resident surnamed Zhang, many alleyways and lanes had been blocked off with metal barriers.
“[Near my home] there’s a mobile phone store which is always open, except now, only one of the doors is open, and there are two people guarding the door,” he said.
“One of them has a handheld [body] scanner, and another is holding a police truncheon, and they’re only letting one person past at a time.”
Police had descended on the most lively districts of Xinjiang’s regional capital, Urumqi, forcing stallholders, street musicians and other small businesses to move along, as part of a region-wide security drive to ensure social stability during the congress, Zhang said.
“They are checking every corner, every day,” he said. “They are looking for so-called ‘instability and insecurities’.”
“Some of the alleyways have been blocked off entirely, while others have barricades or riot police in them.”
A second Urumqi resident said security checks had been stepped up across all public places.
“Recently there have been tighter checks at the airport, as well as security guards posted in the supermarkets; even the small supermarkets which never had security guards in them in the past,” the resident said.
“There are a large number of police patrol cars around at night, and they are stopping cars and checking them for all sorts of things, including drinking, license and tax violations,” he said.
“There are no security scanners [at the gate of the Grand Bazaar], but they are checking people’s bags,” the resident said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that police were currently targeting Uyghur households for raids across the whole of Xinjiang.
“They are carrying out raids in the north and in the south, and at all the border crossings,” he said. “All [people and vehicles] entering Urumqi must submit to a detailed inspection.”
“These measures strictly prohibit Uyghurs, and anyone who doesn’t have their household registration in Urumqi,” Raxit said.
He said the authorities are targeting mostly Uyghur households for raids, nighttime and dawn raids, on a daily basis.
“There are no formalities needed for these raids,” he said. “If anyone refuses to cooperate, they can be immediately detained, and if they try to fight back, they can be shot dead on the spot.”
Raxit said that any Uyghurs linked to the demonstrations and subsequent ethnic clashes of 2009 in the city were particular targets of the “stability” drive.
“Anyone whose relatives died in the July 7 [violence], as well as anyone who is very pious, is under surveillance,” he said.
Outside of Urumqi, similar measures were being employed in other regions of Xinjiang, Raxit said.
He said one in three government officials was on call for the entire period from Nov. 7-17.
“Districts where the Uyghurs live are on level 1 alert,” he added.
Zhang said the police were in full riot gear. “Every police vehicle is full of officers,” he said. “There are also volunteer soldiers in camouflage.”
“They are organized into patrols of more than 12 people.”
China wants no surprises at Communist Party congress
The tightly scripted 18th party congress, set to begin Thursday, will bring together 2,270 delegates from across China and a new lineup of leaders.
BEIJING — A popular joke making the rounds in Beijing touts the superiority of China’s political system to that of the United States.
After all, while the race between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney went down to the wire, the Chinese have known for years the outcome of the 18th Communist Party congress that opens Thursday in Beijing.
Vice President Xi Jinping has been groomed since the last congress in 2007 to replace President Hu Jintao (first as secretary-general of the Communist Party), with Li Keqiang as Premier Wen Jiabao’s successor.
If all goes according to protocol — and the Chinese government has put the country under virtual lockdown to ensure no deviation from the script — Hu will open the session at Tiananmen Square’s Great Hall of the People with a sleep-inducing speech replete with communist jargon. The last time, he droned on for 2 1/2 hours.
Then, about a week later, Xi, Li and other members of the new senior leadership team — the Politburo Standing Committee — will march onstage, according to rank, in matching dark suits and nearly indistinguishable haircuts. They will applaud themselves for the successful conclusion of the event, but they are not expected to lay out a fresh agenda.
“It is all empty speech,” said Li Datong, a former editor of the China Youth Daily, who recalls that some journalists have tried to wriggle out of covering the party congress. To the extent there is any suspense, it is whether the Standing Committee will remain at nine members or, as many analysts believe, be reduced to seven to streamline decision making.
Yet beneath the placid surface, political intrigue is roiling like at no other time in recent Chinese history. This year saw the downfall of Bo Xilai, a telegenic Maoist whose wife was recently convicted of fatally poisoning an English businessman; and the forced resignation of Hu’s chief of staff, Ling Jihua, whose son was killed in a fiery Ferrari crash.
The cascading scandals have served to strengthen and weaken various contenders for the Politburo Standing Committee.
“There’s no difference, in the gossip and the intensity of the U.S. and the Chinese transition: One is played out 24 hours on cable TV, the other is played out in breakfast, lunch, dinner, of anybody involved with the government,” said Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an expert in Chinese politics who is in Beijing to offer commentary on state-run CCTV.
The party congress brings together 2,270 delegates from across China, from senior leaders such as Xi and Hu to a teacher from Tibet, an airport information-desk clerk, a 97-year-old former mayor of Beijing and a 22-year-old Olympic swimmer. Delegates represent different blocs within the party, such as provinces, the military and state-owned enterprises. All must be party members with “a firm political stand, virtue, fine working style and excellent achievements,” as the official New China News Agency put it.
Though they will attend speeches and cast ballots, their role is that of window dressing, said Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney in Australia.
“These people are there as physical bodies, to hold a space, to show that a meeting has been held,” he said. “There’s no drama. But in this system, the less drama there is, the better.”
Indeed, in recent decades, party congresses have had a Groundhog Day-like repetition. A Hong Kong newspaper on Monday compared the communique from the plenary session preceding the congress this year and the one from the 2007 and found the wording virtually verbatim. (For example: “The Political Bureau has comprehensively pushed forward the socialist economic, political, cultural, social and conservation culture construction and the great new party-building project, with various causes achieving remarkable results.”)
The self-plagiarism is something of a point of pride for the Communist Party, which likes to congratulate itself on the decorum and stability of its system, especially next to the perceived messiness of Western democracies.
The primary tasks of the gathering are to make amendments to the party’s constitution and elect about 200 members to the party’s Central Committee. There are a few more candidates than there are positions, but hardly enough to add excitement. From the Central Committee members, people are chosen for two higher bodies, the Politburo (about 25 members) and the elite Politburo Standing Committee.
Although this structure makes the leadership transfer appear to be the result of a series of bottom-up decisions, Xi and the other incoming senior leaders have in fact been selected through secret negotiations among senior officials and party elders. Although elders have called in recent years for “intra-party democracy,” the votes are conducted in closed sessions, the results a state secret.
“The aura of secrecy is comparable to the College of Cardinals choosing the next pope, except you don’t have smoke signals,” said Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
When senior leaders were beginning to think about selecting a successor to Hu, one of the things they did was poll 300 to 400 elite party members, according to Dali Yang, a China politics expert at the University of Chicago. Xi came out on top.
Among the reasons he was favored, Yang said, were his performance as an official in Shanghai and Zhejiang province; his experience with the military; and the fact that his father, a party official, was well-regarded among the reformist camp. “He’s very well-liked,” said Yang. “He doesn’t have a lot of enemies.”
Still, this year’s transition makes party elites particularly nervous because it is seen as the first that has not been orchestrated by party founders from the era of Mao Tse-tung. The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping selected Hu to succeed Jiang in 2002, but today, no figure in the organization has the same clout as Deng.
“Before there was more certainty, because Deng mandated who would succeed Jiang,” said Brown, of the University of Sydney. “Jiang is still around, but he’s a much weaker figure…. Questions will hover around the new leaders: Who chose them, how did they get into the sort of positions they got into?”
Perhaps more interesting than the congress itself will be an economic meeting later this month, when Xi debuts in his leadership position. Technically, he will not become China’s president until March, but he will be named secretary-general of the Communist Party during the congress and in that capacity serve as the most powerful person in China because the party trumps the government.
Xi may be well-liked, but it remains to be seen what policies he will pursue, and how quickly he is willing, or able, to push his agenda. A key question is whether Hu will stay on as head of the Central Military Commission; if he does, that could limit Xi’s room to maneuver.
Although the Communist Party’s creaky stage management and pageantry appears stuck in a time warp, China, outside the Great Hall of the People, is galloping forward. It now boasts the world’s second largest economy, yet the growth is slowing, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and the public is increasingly frustrated by issues such as graft and environmental degradation. These are issues the party has to contend with.
“It’s trying to refurbish its mission. Like any party, Democrats or Republicans, it needs to be renewed, it needs spirit and vitality and leadership succession is part of that,” Yang said.