by Lisa Peryman

Solid as a rock

Ensuring public stability has become even more of a priority for President Xi Jinping in the sensitive lead-up time to the CPC Central Committee’s 19th Party Congress scheduled for later this year. Law enforcement and local officials must guard against potential threats as never before, including the threat of disaster. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake in southwest China’s Sichuan province earlier this month saw “earthquake rumours” added to the growing list of bans in recent weeks.

China’s Ministry of Public Security, the country’s principal police authority, has begun investigating crimes related to the spreading of earthquake rumours via social media, as well as charity fraud after a deadly quake struck the southwestern province of Sichuan earlier this month, Xinhua news agency reports.

According to various sources, the powerful 7.0-magnitude quake that hit Jiuzhaigou County, a mountainous tourist area, at 9:19 p.m. on August 8, left a death toll of around 24, injuring 493, with 45 in serious condition. More than 61,500 tourists and migrant workers are estimated to have been evacuated. Local roads are said to have sustained serious damage, with “massive rockfalls and landslides every kilometer or so,” reports Radio Free Asia (RFA), quoting a source in the area.

A Chinese journalist at the scene told RFA that “everyone had fled” for the most part and that the quake had caused “geological instability” and would have a substantial impact on tourism. Information on this, reports RFA, is restricted as news editors have been told to “stick to official copy” from Xinhua, widely seen as a mouthpiece for the ruling Communist Party, according to a leaked directive from government propaganda officials to news editors.

Xinhua in its reporting said an official with the Ministry of Public Security had advised Internet users to refrain from creating, believing or passing on rumours regarding Jiuzhaigou. Shocking photographs and video footage of the quake’s aftermath have also been forbidden and news outlets have been directed to monitor online public comments closely for “harmful information”. The ministry has also launched an investigation into charity fraud that exploits public sympathy for quake victims.

These latest moves come in the lead-up to mainland China’s biggest event of this year’s political calendar, the 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party scheduled for October/November in Beijing, as President Xi Jinping seeks to curb threats to political stability. The twice-a-decade leadership shuffle is expected to lay out the domestic and foreign policy priorities of China for the next five years and consolidate Xi’s power as “core” leader of the Party – in the footsteps of late supreme leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping – as the CPC looks ahead to its 100th birthday in 2021.

In a bid to ensure stability, a list of threats to a successful Party Congress have been circulated to neighbourhood committees throughout the country, reports Radio Free Asia. The three biggest dangers to the upcoming meeting on that list are mass gatherings of people “having nationwide impact,” a terror attack, and any incident involving public safety (including disasters involving large loss of life and injury or major transportation accidents).

The directive was issued after a social media poster, with the online nickname “Guanlan Tianxia,” was detained in the southwestern province of Yunnan more than a week ago for tweets about Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping, RFA reports. Other social media users and rights activists say they have experienced similar treatment, including travel bans, for criticism of the current leadership. The crackdown is believed to be part of an undertaking to ward off public gatherings at a politically sensitive time.

Despite Xi’s best efforts, “party congress years have a way of bringing the unexpected,” observes Bloomberg News. Before the last meeting in 2012, it notes, “anti-Japanese protests broke out over a territorial dispute, Xi disappeared from public view for two weeks and Politburo member Bo Xilai was purged amid a murder scandal.”

Radio Free Asia is a pro-democracy radio broadcaster. Its parent organization is the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. government agency that supervises the Voice of America and other broadcast entities.

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