A Party that smiles to the world, but tightens its grip at home

Create an image of bigger openness, but in reality: tighten your grip on society through more censorship and control. Such is the order stated in classified documents from the Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership – suggesting that hardliners are now in control of the country‘s development

”In particular, crackdowns must be imposed on any aggression directed against the party and its leaders as well as against the promotion of other political systems and a free press.” Such is the essential message in an official and classified document from the Chinese Central Committee leaked to the Danish daily

On the first page of the document, it is stated that its contents has been approved by the Central Committee and sent out for implementation. The document is one of a number of papers leaked from the top Chinese echelon that directly contradict public statements by Chinese leaders. Among other things, the regime has insisted that it does not exercise any censorship. However, the official document outlines several instances of how the Chinese authorities should prevent people from getting in touch with ”politically sensitive information”. Such information must be either ”blocked”, ”destroyed” or ”cleansed” from the Internet, media and books, the order from the Central Committee to the lower levels of the state apparatus makes clear.

The document, which is the dated from the beginning of March, has been communicated to ”all provincial governments” and ”all headquarters of the People's Liberation Army” with the message that they must ”work hard together in order to diligently execute the policy” that ”comrades in the Central Committee and leaders of the State Council have agreed upon”.

The document states further that there is to be a shutdown of ”false representations of China’s revolution history and of ideas that may encourage separatism, divisiveness between the country’s peoples, extreme religious ideas or provoke social conflicts or mass demonstrations.”

The same document describes how to set up local cells that could enhance the monitoring and censorship of the Internet as well as participate actively in discussions in for instance chat rooms and blogs in order to manipulate public opinion to the Communist party’s advantage.

The same line is repeated in other documents, including the one from the Party leadership in Beijing, which declares that ”all illegal and harmful information on Chinese and foreign web sites should be completely blocked.” And that people who disseminate such information should be ”indicted and prosecuted quickly before a judge and be quickly convicted.”

Two versions

The classified documents reveal that the Chinese government plays a double game with a large and growing gap between the self-portrait regime that Beijing itself wishes to project to outside world and the way it actually intends to rule. The communist regime’s propaganda apparatus is instructed to introduce China to other countries as peaceful, increasingly democratic and open to the outside world. But behind the facade, its grip on Chinese people and society should be tightened to new levels of harshness.

”Although it is no secret that there is an extensive censorship going on in China, the government denies that it is taking place, These documents undermine this denial by virtue of the the government’s own words,” says media analyst at Hong Kong University David Bandurski.

Besides giving evidence to an increased control and censorship of domestic media and Internet, the documents also prescribe the establishing a corps of informants who should be responsible for identifying and designating critical citizens. Moreover, Beijing’s perceived threat from the West to the party’s power should be resisted, among other things by tightening the reigns on foreign journalists and NGO’s and by exerting ”greater control over the access of Western cultural products to the Chinese market.” This should be combined with a strengthened propaganda effort against the Chinese population, making it less susceptible to ”dangerous information from the outside” and promoting ”a better understanding of the Communist Party’s strength”.

Hardliners in power

For a long time, there has been a hope in the West that China’s tremendous economic development would automatically lead to a political liberalization and greater freedoms and civil rights for the Chinese. The leaked documents, however, suggest that Beijing will do everything in its power to ensure that this scenario will not come true.

”It shows that China is not on track to become the freer society that so many Western governments would like to imagine. Rather, the opposite would seem to be the case”, says Jean-Philippe Beja, a China researcher at the Centre for International Studies and Research in Paris, whom Information has initiated in parts of the leaked documents.

David Bandurski has not seen the document files but Information has presented parts of the contents to David Bandurski, and he believes the documents can be seen as signal about which direction the political winds in Beijing are blowing today: ”It is clear that the hardliners of the party are now in charge and that the distance between reality and the image which the government wants to project of China, grows bigger and bigger.”

From the highest level

Often, the Chinese local governments are accused of being behind the violations, the clamp-downs and the increased control over the media and ordinary citizens, while the central leadership in Beijing is presented as proponents of a relatively more lenient line. But the documents contain orders from the top leadership for a tougher stance: Most of the calls for greater control are to be found in documents from Party’s Central Committee, the highest authority in the party.

The leaked documents originate from the period between late January and mid-March. That is to say shortly after the imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo in December was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and immediately before and around the time of anonymous calls on the internet to protest against the government in Beijing began to circulate – inspired by the popular revolts in North Africa and Middle East – prompting the Chinese authorities to strike an exceptionally hard blow against serveral regime critics. A large number of eminent lawyers and activists were arrested, placed under house arrest or simply vanished. The most prominent victim of the ongoing tightening has been the artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who was released only last Wednesday after 81 days in jail and who has apparently now been muzzled by the authorities.

”We must assume that these documents were written at a time when the regime was in a state of panic over the danger of civil unrest inside the country,” says Jean-Philippe Beja.

A Society of Snitches

It’s not just against the Internet and the Chinese media that the clamp-down should be intensified. A document issued by the central propaganda bureau dated 22 January declares that ”the daily monitoring of the population is to be extended”, which will be accomplished mainly through building a ”more efficient” system of ”informants or whistleblowers” who, on behalf of the regime should be on the look-out for ”dangerous informations” and ”dangerous individuals”. These informants should be located ”in schools, universities, workplaces, villages and housing estates.”

The document states that it is an approach that ”the center”, i. e. the central leadership of the party, has ”agreed” upon and which the provincial governments and the Party committees throughout the country will be responsible for implementing.

”The use of informants – or snitches – seems to be a used tool which is increasingly used to target anyone who sticks his head out," says Jean-Philippe Beja. And, so the French professor continues, the documents suggest that ”the regime now will again begin to penetrate deeper into people’s lives, even cracking down on opinions that are voiced privately. To a large extent, the authorities had evolved at habit of closing their ears to the honest opinions, that Chinese people expressed in small gatherings. Obviously they now intend to prevent this kind of outspokenness. It is a frightening development.”

Information's reporter has presented the sources in this news story with summary and quotes from the content of the document files in question. Sources have not actually seen the files.

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