China: Riots highlight migrant rights
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||14 June 2011|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, China: Riots highlight migrant rights, 14 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e0c3b2f26.html [accessed 10 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Analysts say discrimination against migrant workers will lead to unrest across China.
Migrant workers are rioting in Xintang, approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Guangzhou. RFA
Recent riots by migrant workers in a Guangdong factory town are highlighting gaping social inequalities between rural and urban Chinese, analysts said Tuesday.
Chinese authorities have detained several hundred protesters following three days of bloody riots triggered by a street dispute involving a married couple, including a pregnant woman.
Local residents said around 2,700 security troops backed by armored vehicles could be seen firing tear gas at thousands of rioters on the streets of Xintang township in Zengcheng prefecture.
The unrest in Xintang – approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the provincial capital of Guangzhou – has touched off tensions between migrant workers and local authorities in China's industrial heartland.
Guizhou-based political commentator Zeng Ning said similar incidents of mass unrest happen all the time in China.
"The most important reason is social inequity and vested interests," Zeng said. "The people are full of anger and resentment, and this will very easily spill out when there is an opportunity."
Zeng said that late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping's saying that some should be allowed "to get rich first" was a good one.
"But the question is, how did they get rich? If it was from the fruits of their own efforts or talents ... then no one would have a problem with it," he said. "The problem is that since economic reforms began, most people who have got rich have done so through irregular means."
"They are usually the offspring of those in power or people who are connected to those in power."
"When the government doesn't get its power from the people ... then they will always tend towards protectionism when confronted with the demands of the people," Zeng added.
Inequality a factor
"Of course social inequality is a hidden factor here," said Wu Kegang, China adviser to the British Chamber of Commerce, citing growing income disparities between the prosperous cities of China's east coast, and the poorer, inland regions, as well as between people with urban and rural registration cards.
"This was a factor in the attempts of the recent Five-Year Plan to make adjustments."
Wu said that China's government needs to find ways in which to ensure that the rewards of economic growth are more fairly distributed.
"They also need to look at the way the government handles conflict, and improve the complaints system to make it more transparent," Wu said.
Thousands of petitioners go to Beijing each year to seek redress for complaints against their local governments.
They are frequently held in "black jails," which stand outside the criminal justice system, and are escorted back to their hometowns by local governments, which run representative offices in the capital for the purpose.
Residents of Xintang say local authorities have stepped up efforts to quell the riots since violence broke out on Friday.
"There are a lot of armed police and regular police all along the streets standing guard," said a Xintang resident surnamed Li. "The roads have all been sealed off."
"They have set up checkpoints to search vehicles, and they're checking everyone's identity papers. There are police everywhere on the streets," he added.
Residents said more than 100 protesters had been wounded and several hundreds detained since the riots began.
A manager surnamed Tang at a machinery factory in Xintang said the town has a high migrant worker population, many of whom try to make extra money as peddlers in their spare time, like the couple targeted by city management officials in the original dispute.
"A lot of them operate stalls without a license, although you can get a license simply by paying a fee," she said. "I think the thing that kicked it off must be dissatisfaction with the government, and especially with the way they charge fees."
"The [officials] don't stick to the rules about this," Tang said.
A mother and former Guangdong-based migrant worker surnamed Yuan said there are many obstacles to migrant workers settling into normal lives in factory towns.
"The fees for private schools are very high, and you have to pay a contribution fee even in the public schools," she said. "While we are working over here, our kids have to go to school, so that is a huge expenditure for migrant workers. On our days off, we try to earn as much money as we can."
A growing threat
Meanwhile, a government think-tank warned Tuesday that China's millions of rural workers will become a serious threat to stability unless they are better treated in their new urban locations.
Migrant workers who move to towns and cities to seek work in factories are often treated as unwelcome interlopers, and enjoy much less access to public services like education, welfare payments and health care than those who are registered as already living in the town.
A report from the State Council Development Research Center in Reform magazine said rural migrant workers are not only marginalized in cities and treated as mere cheap labor, but even neglected, discriminated against, and harmed.
"If they are not absorbed into urban society, and do not enjoy the rights that are their due, many conflicts will accumulate," the report warned. "If mishandled, this will create a major destabilizing threat."
Based on a survey of 6,232 migrant workers, the report found that while migrant workers have won higher wages and better treatment, few now want to return to their villages.
"Basically, there is no chance that the new generation of migrant workers will return to their villages to farm, and about 90 percent of rural migrant workers expressed the desire to become urbanized," said the study.
"Policymaking must confront the pressing reality that migrant workers now dominated by a younger generation will remain in towns and cities."
China's hukou (residence permit) system currently channels most welfare, housing support, and health care to urban residents, the report noted.
"Under our country's current bifurcated urban-rural system, rural migrant workers are still treated as interlopers in cities, and they cannot enjoy the same treatment as urban residents."
The report estimated the cost of providing equal treatment for migrant workers in towns at roughly 80,000 yuan (U.S. $12,340) per person.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Yang Jiadai for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.