By Leslie Hook in Beijing
Published: March 6 2011 17:18 | Last updated: March 6 2011 17:18
China’s spending on internal public security overtook national defence for the first time last year, underlining Beijing’s growing concern about public unrest.
The finance ministry said, in a budget released at the weekend, that spending on public security grew 15.6 per cent to Rmb549bn ($84bn) last year, compared with defence spending that grew 7.8 per cent to Rmb533.4bn. Public security spending was Rmb34.6bn, or 6.7 per cent, over budget.
Security spending, budgeted at Rmb624bn, is this year scheduled to outpace defence, at Rmb602bn, and will be more than the combined budgets for healthcare, diplomacy and financial oversight.
This reprioritisation underscores Beijing’s nervousness at escalating public unrest. Violent riots in Xinjiang and Tibet have prompted more spending on public security forces, including paramilitary forces known as the people’s armed police.
The increased spending comes as calls for a Middle East-inspired “Jasmine revolution” have gone largely unanswered in China. On Sunday, would-be gathering points for the protests in Beijing and Shanghai appeared devoid of any demonstrators, although about a dozen foreign journalists were temporarily detained by police in Shanghai.
Nevertheless, the calls for protests in China have sent security forces into overdrive. Dissidents have been rounded up or placed under heightened surveillance, and several foreign journalists were beaten by security officers as they visited potential protest sites on Sunday February 27.
Security officials have, over the past week, warned foreign journalists to stay away from potential protest sites and in some cases asked for signed promises not to report on protests.
Wen Jiabao, premier, acknowledged some public discontent in his state of the union speech on Saturday. “We have not yet fundamentally solved a number of issues that the masses feel strongly about,” he said in his annual address, citing illegal land appropriation, corruption, poor medical services and “exorbitant” housing prices.
Inflation is also viewed as a threat to social stability. Mr Wen said fighting rising prices was the top economic priority for Beijing this year.
China’s internal security apparatus has grown more powerful with the rise of Zhou Yongkang, security chief, a member of the politburo standing committee.
In one reminder of the scale of the internal security apparatus, official media reported that 739,000 security guards were dispatched to ensure order and direct traffic as China’s annual congresses began in Beijing over the weekend.
Officials at those meetings were highly critical of the idea of a “Jasmine revolution”. It was “preposterous and unrealistic” to suggest that the uprisings in the Middle East would have parallels in China, said Zhao Qizheng, spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, according to Xinhua news agency. Meanwhile state-run papers have urged stability, and pointed to the chaos caused by uprisings in the Middle East.
China’s security budget includes funding for courts, jails, police, paramilitary and even internet monitoring. Analysts said spending on both public security and national defence was higher than reported.
Andrew Gilholm, analyst at Control Risks, said technology spending might be playing a part in the growing security budget. “A lot of the focus at the moment is on technology . . . and the obsession with staying ahead of technology and social media is probably quite a costly one.”