As China's legislature completes the second day of its annual session, Chinese
officials have indicated that trying to keep the country's 1.3 billion people
happy in hard economic times is a top priority. At the same time, human rights
groups are reporting a stepped up crackdown on dissent, in Beijing and around
China's aggressive stimulus program focuses on spending for
infrastructure and social programs, to combat the effects of the global economic
downturn and head off possible unrest.
At a news conference in Beijing
Friday, National Development and Reform Commission chairman Zhang Ping gave some
details of how the money will be used.
Zhang says some of the
government's stimulus money will go toward education and toward housing
subsidies. He also said the money will be spent on infrastructure projects, such
as building bridges, and on environmental projects.
At a major speech at the Chinese legislature's
opening day Thursday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said social stability is a
"major concern" for the government.
There are 20 million laid off workers
in China, according to official statistics. That number could grow if the
economic downturn worsens.
Heavy security has accompanied the annual
Beijing legislative session.
Sharon Hom, from the New York-based
advocacy group Human Rights in China, says it is usual to see tighter security
in China around big meetings. This year, though, she says the crackdown on
dissent is more intense than in previous years and affects a wider range of
"What we're seeing is that it's not only in Beijing, but also
like in Shanxi and other areas, where you're seeing a diverse group of
petitioners, petitioners on a range of issues, from peasants who've had their
land taken away, to petitioners who are victims to scams and other scandals, and
activists who have been active rights defenders all along," said Hom.
group's latest report includes 64-year old petitioner, Wang Xiuzhen, who was
detained by police in Beijing, and later reportedly punched and kicked when she
tried to protest. Wang has been petitioning the government to investigate a
1998 investment scam that defrauded her and other workers of tens of millions of
Hom says the Chinese government's purpose in cracking down is to
maintain social order.
"They're sending a very clear message, that it's
important that there be control, and that I think it's sending a message to
rights defenders that are now under surveillance, and petitioners, that they
will be dealt with harshly," she said.
The National People's Congress is
made up of nearly 3,000 delegates, who approve decisions made by the Chinese
Communist Party. The 2009 session ends March 13.