- - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

For two years in a row, China will spend a huge portion of its annual budget on forces used to check growing social discontent and for protecting the communist regime from popular challenges. The official budget figure for internal security spending released this week highlights Beijing’s anxiety about mounting social unrest and its determined focus on countering it.

On Monday, the Chinese government made public this year’s spending plans. The amount slated for internal security will be boosted by 11.5 percent to $111 billion, larger than the much-talked-about Chinese defense budget that will jump by 11.2 percent to $106.4 billion.

China’s Leninist state legally defines “internal security” as zhuanzhengjiqi, or “dictatorship machines.” The actual constitutional expression of this internal security apparatus is, as the preamble to the country’s constitution states, “the People’s Democratic Dictatorship … in essence the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

These dictatorship machines include police, state security, armed police, labor camps and jails under the overall category of “public security.”

Last year, China’s spending for this category grew by 13.8 percent, surpassing for the first time the spending on the already-exploding budget for its army.

China’s economic and military expansions have surprised and alarmed many throughout the world. It also has come with volatile social discontent against the communist government that has been manifest in tens of thousands of demonstrations and other expressions of social unrest.

Official Chinese statistics report that in 1998 there were 8,700 cases of “mass incidents,” a euphemism for large-scale social and political protests and attacks against government policies and organizations; by 2010, the last time public figures were published, “mass incidents” in China topped 90,000, an increase of more than 1,000 percent.

The most obvious areas of iron-fist suppression by China’s “dictatorship machines” are Buddhist Tibet and Muslim Xinjiang, where ethnic tensions remain at an all-time high.

But other areas in China are equally jittery about the possible explosion of the “Big One,” the one major outburst of unrest that could lead to the toppling of the communist regime.

WEATHER TALK IN BEIJING

The talk in Beijing this week is about high-level power struggles and corruption. Because no officials can speak openly about the most sensational political drama since Chinese military leader Lin Biao was accused of fomenting a coup in 1971 and the Gang of Four (including Mao Zedong’s widow) were arrested in yet another coup attempt in 1976, top leaders are resorting to talking about the weather in conveying subtle but important political messages to the nation.

For the past several days, thousands of “people’s delegates” from all provinces in China converged on Beijing for the annual National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, two major Communist Party sessions.

But the focus of the nation’s attention remains on one particular delegate, Bo Xilai, the party boss from the southwest metropolis of Chongqing whose police chief, Wang Lijun, dramatically spent a night in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, where he reportedly sought political asylum but was turned away and given over to a senior official of Beijing’s Ministry of State Security, the civilian political police and intelligence service.

The most-junior and yet most-ambitious and flamboyant member of the ruling Politburo, Mr. Bo is widely reported to be maneuvering for a spot in the party’s core leadership group, the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The Wang Lijun affair appears to have heavily damaged Mr. Bo’s political standing and thus his chances to reach that goal, most analysts say. But he surprisingly showed up at the Beijing conferences, leaving the entire nation at a loss as to what will happen next.

The nation’s desire for a clear answer about Mr. Bo’s fate was partially, yet artistically, satisfied when He Guoqiang, the top prosecutor of the Communist Party’s internal discipline organization and a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, went to the Chongqing delegation Saturday morning to make an important statement about the weather: “Comrades from Chongqing have just told me a few minutes ago that the weather in Chongqing and the weather in Beijing at this moment are very different,” Mr. He said.

“This year,” he announced, “cold weather in Beijing lasts longer than usual. But right now, we are in a good period of seasonal transition, especially with a long dry span and a lack of rain and snow. And in Beijing temperatures in the morning and in the evening change greatly. I wish all of you from Chongqing give sufficient attention to guarding yourself against cold air, keeping yourself warm, and mind your own health.”

The comments are viewed by observers as clearly more about politics than the weather, as shown by the unprecedented prominence given to Mr. He’s weather talk in state-run press. The entire weather talk was printed by the People’s Daily, Xinhua and all other major state-run media, further adding to the mystique.

Mr. He’s weather comments became an instant sensation nationwide and went viral on Chinese Internet.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.