Not only have the Olympics failed to act as a catalyst for political liberalization in China, but the regime's pre-Olympics security buildup looks set to enable the government to crack down as hard as ever on dissent after the Games are over. In line with the time-honored Chinese tradition of "taking revenge after the autumn harvest," police and military authorities are planning major reprisals against a host of troublemakers.
Punitive action has begun even before the athletes and the estimated 400,000 foreign tourists leave town. Remember the "protest zones" that Beijing authorities set up in three local parks as testimony of the regime's "new openness"? According to international human rights watchdogs, several activists who have applied to hold protests have been harassed and detained. They include two Beijing petitioners, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, who were last week sentenced to a one-year term of "re-education through labor." Mr. Wu and Ms. Wang's crime: repeatedly petitioning the authorities for having been wrongfully evicted from their Beijing homes seven years ago.
Indeed, a good number of the strategies and institutions put into place to ensure a fail-safe Olympics are here to stay.
Since disturbances hit Tibet and four neighboring provinces in March, the leadership under President Hu Jintao has boosted the powers of the People's Liberation Army, the People's Armed Police, the regular police and the judicial apparatus in combating destabilizing forces. As a key element of the revival of Chairman Mao Zedong's "people's warfare," Beijing and a number of other cities have revived the vigilante and spying functions of neighborhood committees. Municipal administrations along the coast -- and in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang -- have recently earmarked additional budget to maintain the "spying" functions of neighborhood committees and similar vigilante outfits after the Olympics.
Moreover, the Politburo's Central Political and Legal Commission, China's highest law-enforcement agency, has urged the courts and prosecutors to do more in fulfilling the party's priority task of thwarting anti-Beijing conspiracies and upholding sociopolitical stability.
That the courts will comply in this is evident from a just-released article by the President of the Supreme People's Court, Wang Shengjun. Writing in this week's edition of the official Seeking Truth journal, Mr. Wang said: "We must pay more attention to maintaining state security and social stability. . . We must boost our consciousness of [safeguarding] the power of the regime . . . and fully develop our functions as a department for [proletarian] dictatorship."
Recent vows made by senior judicial cadres about doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are indicative of the Hu leadership's long-term game plan of using the judicial apparatus against the party's foes. In numerous political campaigns waged by the CCP in recent decades, prosecutors and judges have played a pivotal role in "expediting" the incrimination of "counterrevolutionaries."
The CCP leadership also is beefing up its campaign against "splittist elements," particularly in Xinjiang. In three separate attacks in western Xinjiang between August 4 and 12, ruffians described by Chinese authorities as "terrorists" killed 20 PAP officers and police.
In a televised conference earlier this week, a high-ranking member of the Xinjiang CCP Committee, Zhu Hailun, indicated that the authorities would step up their "military struggle" against the "three evil forces" of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism. "We must use iron-fisted methods to hit out at the disruptive activities [of separatists]," said Mr. Zhu, who is responsible for law and order in the restive region. "We shall take the initiative in attacking [the evil forces], hit them wherever they show up, and launch pre-emptive strikes against them."
Mr. Zhu's stern rhetoric has left no doubt that Beijing has ruled out any compromise with underground Uighur groups, many of which are merely seeking autonomous rights guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution, not outright independence. Instead, President Hu had in early summer ordered more People's Liberation Army and People's Armed Police reinforcements into Xinjiang and Tibet. These deployments have been confirmed by a Liberation Army Daily story earlier this month, which said that crack units from the Air Force of the Nanjing Military Region, which is responsible for the Taiwan Strait, had taken part in recent war games in Xinjiang.
Apart from hitting out at dissidents, petitioners and secessionist elements, the CCP leadership is buttressing its capacities to handle "mass incidents," a code word for riots and disturbances staged by peasants and workers who bear grudges against the authorities. The party journal Fortnightly Chat pointed out last week that "a rash of mass incidents have suddenly erupted, and they have rung the bell of alarm for [the viability of] grassroots administrations."
Many of these incidents have to do with peasants whose land has been grabbed by corrupt officials, or workers and migrant laborers who have been deprived of their pensions and other rightful benefits. Confrontation between the masses and police is tipped to rise owing to recent difficulties in the economy. Some 67,000 medium-sized enterprises folded in the first half of the year. And the livelihood of workers and farmers has been rendered more difficult by inflation that is hovering between 6% and 7%.
Growing instability on various fronts has predisposed the Hu leadership toward strengthening the police-state apparatus that has been put together in the name of ensuring a trouble-free Olympics. Moreover, cadres in the law-and-order establishment, who include senior officials in the Central Political and Legal Commission as well as military, police and judicial departments, have gained immense clout, not to mention much more funding, since early this year.
These units have used their extra budgets to hire tens of thousands of new staff, in addition to acquiring hardware that includes state-of-the-art antiriot gear and hundreds of thousands of surveillance cameras and related equipment. It is in the vested interests of this fast-expanding law-and-order establishment to play up the imperative of eradicating "enemies of the party," whether real or imagined.
All of which together bodes ill for the prospects of a post-Olympics thaw for China's aggrieved residents and political dissidents.
Mr. Lam is a Hong Kong-based China scholar and author of "Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era" (M.E. Sharpe, 2006).