03/10/2023, 13.43
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Xi wants public complaints to be heard, but strengthens the police state

More powers are given to the agency charged with citizens’ petitions. The country’s leaders fear new protests after those by anti-lockdown advocates and pensioners. While the National People's Congress is underway, the authorities have blocked and placed under surveillance defrauded savers in Henan. The police place lawyers and humanitarian activists under virtual house arrest. For Freedom House, China remains a police state.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Xi Jinping is giving more powers to the government agency responsible for petitions and public complaints, seemingly reaching out to growing grassroot protest movements after three years of his draconian zero-Covid policy.

Yet, following an established pattern, police is preventing petitioners – including lawyers and humanitarian activists who wish to present demands on sensitive topics – from reaching the capital during the annual meeting of China’s parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

Despite claims to greater responsiveness to citizens’ demands, as is their wont, Chinese police are showing their efficiency towards those deemed troublemakers.

Meanwhile, the NPC today unanimously re-elected Xi Jinping to a third, unprecedented term in office as president, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, and as head of the Central Military Commission.

Under new rules, the National Public Complaints and Proposals Administration will not simply receive petitions and assign them to the appropriate agencies, but will be able to take action independently to solve the problems raised.

This reflects Xi’s increasing concern over the mood of the country. After popular protests in late November led to the sudden easing of anti-COVID-19 restrictions he imposed, thousands of pensioners demonstrated last month in Wuhan (Hubei) and Dalian (Liaoning) over cuts made by provincial authorities to their health benefits.

Experts note that the reform of the petition system is aimed at appeasing popular anger at local administrations, often accused of mismanagement and corruption. However, as Reuters reports, the authorities have recently stopped savers defrauded by local banks in Henan province.

Many of them have still not been able to access their savings after US$ 1.5 billion were frozen in connection with the scandal.

Police stopped people from boarding trains leaving for Beijing. Others have been placed under round-the-clock surveillance or have discovered tracking devices in their cars.

Some have even found themselves under virtual house arrest, like the well-known human rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, and his wife Li Wenzu, who is also involved in humanitarian work.

The couple told Radio Free Asia that on Tuesday, International Women's Day, Beijing police surrounded their residence and prevented them from leaving.

In its 2023 report, Freedom House again ranked China at the bottom in terms of freedoms, describing the country as "not free" for the fifth consecutive decade.

According to the US-based advocacy group, Beijing's ability and sophistication in deploying technologies in the service of state security remain unparallel, stressing that, “Those who criticized the Party received severe penalties.”

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