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China: What will shutting down Beijing's liaison offices do for petitioners?

It's last month's news, but the story first reported by Outlook Weekly that most of China's version of K Street, several thousand ‘Beijing liaison offices’ scattered throughout the city, will be shut down before July, has potentially wider impact than just helping to curb rampant corruption.

Facilities initially set up to handle relations between Beijing and local governments, the introduction of market economy policies saw a surge of the ‘liaison’ offices into Beijing during the nineties, from inland cities to rural conglomerates to universities across the country, each representing various interests in lobbying for greater funding from the central government.

The goal of the State Council now, by planning to shift that role upward to provincial-level representative offices, seems to be to bring more transparency and oversight to China's lobbying sector. Many of the larger liaison offices are best known for their own restaurants and other extravagant entertainment facilities used in lobbying efforts.

Vice Dean of the department of agriculture and country development at Renmin University Zheng Fengtian wrote about the move in a much-read post [zh] from January. Like many people, he strongly doubts that many of Beijing's various liaison offices will ultimately be sent packing. He identifies four groups of people who stand to lose out, given such a move:

1. Beijing's local government and service industry, departments of GDP statistics, the realty sector, hotels, halls, restaurants, commercial buildings and entertainment clubs, etc. “All the eggs will be broken when this nest gets raided, even suppliers of fake Moutai liquor stand to lose,” for all the ‘contributions’ liaison offices make to the Beijing economy.

2. Ministry and commission cadres, who won't know how to decide who deserves how much of all their earmarked funding.

3. Local government officials and their families who love Beijing so much; they might still have time to come in from the countryside to go shopping or party it up on official business, they'll just have to find their own places to stay.

On a more serious note, Zheng's fourth group refers to the more recent role that, through redundancy and ending of practices such as custody and repatriation, liaison offices now find themselves devoting most of their time to—what China Daily calls ‘maintaining stability’ and Human Rights Watch explains as the dissuading, intercepting and sometimes kidnapping of petitioners having traveled to Beijing from each liaison office's home jurisdiction:

驻京办不能拆的另外一个主要工作是担负维稳工作,目前已演变成驻京办工作的重中之重。过去那些受冤的小民,在紧要关头一般都要到京告状。各地乡长镇长局长们也要来辨认领回,驻京办应该是一个好场所,最少能够让领导们好好休息休息。据透露,每年仅全国“两会”期,各省市区驻京办成功劝访人数达十多万人。如果驻京办给关了,那些来京人员就要与访民们同住信访村了,这不间接挤占了本已拥挤不堪的信访村了?也许驻京办关了以后访民们有冤了就因此不会再选择到京告状了,因为没有驻京办宽阔的住宿,太挤了。

Another main reason why Beijing liaison offices won't get shut down lies with their responsibilities in maintaining social stability, which currently has already become the priority in the work Beijing liaison offices do.

In the past, citizens who suffered injustice would usually have no choice but to turn to Beijing to seek redress. For heads of the various townships, towns and departments out to track them down and bring them home, Beijing liaison offices were a good place to start, or at the very least were a place for such leaders to get some good rest.

According to those supposedly in the know, every year, the various provincial, municipal and regional liaison offices in Beijing during the annual session of the Two Meetings alone successfully discourage more than a hundred thousand people from petitioning. If these Beijing liaison offices get shut down, those people stationed in Beijing might just have to start living with petitioners there in petition villages, but then wouldn't that then just be taking up space in petition villages which already don't have any left to spare?

Perhaps for that very reason, once the Beijing liaison offices get shut down, petitioners with their cases of injustice will just stop coming to Beijing to seek redress. Without those space Beijing liaison office dormitories, it'd just be too crowded.

Some of the comments on Zheng's post:

大哥,你不要命啦?!
这个也是你能说的话?
和谐设备,小心

Bro, are you trying to get yourself in trouble?!
Can you even say stuff like that?
Harmonious society…watch yourself

你要上访吗?第一次劝诫,第二次拘留,第三次劳教。某地方电视台公然打出这样宣传口号

You gonna go petition now? The first time, they'll try and talk you out of it. Second time, you get detained. Third time, off to re-education through labor. I actually saw this on one television station that used it as a propaganda slogan.

支持 说的太好了 腐败太重了哦

Nice, well-put. Corruption is way out of hand.

国家是谁的?是人民的!国家的财富是谁的?还是是人民的!她不是某几个领导人的!也不是少数利益集团的!更不是某个人数众多的党派的!而是中国人民的!每个人民都有一份!每个中国人的利益都应该得到尊重!因此人民的利益高于一切!

“让一部分人先富起来”的话,不过是给自己混点实惠!富得只是他们自己,没有看到带动广大人民群众共同致富!从历史上看人就是有穷有福的,好不容易伟大领袖毛主席让人人平等了,结果又让这些乱臣贼子给弄成贫富差距巨大了!实际上不是他们富了,而是广大人民群众变穷了。

钱是有数的,不在老百姓的兜里,就在那些当权者兜里!就在那些执政者兜里!这不过是一场财富的再分配!这是对人民的犯罪!

Who does the country belong to? The people! Who does the country's finances belong to? Also the people! Not just to a few leaders! And not just to a small number of special interest groups! And especially not just to the many members of one high-membership party! It belongs to the Chinese people! The interests of each and every Chinese person deserve to be respected! The interests of the People come before everything else!

“Let some people get rich first,” they're just padding their own pockets! The only ones getting rich are themselves, because I don't see any signs of the vast masses getting wealthy together! Judging from history, there are two kinds of people: rich and poor. Look what it took for our great leader Chairman Mao to give everyone equality, and now the result is that these traitors have created this enormous gap between the rich and the poor! When actually it's not that they're getting richer, it's that the masses are getting poorer.

Money is finite; if it's not in the pockets of the people, then it's going into the pockets of the rulers! In the pockets of those in power! This isn't just a redistribution of wealth! This is a crime against the people!

上访者更能表达民情了吧

Petitioners are much better at expressing the feelings of the people

什么劝访,就是强制押回关押,南通就常有这样的是发生,关闭驻京办老百姓举手赞诚。

What are you talking about, discouraging them. They either get forcibly returned home or else locked up. Stuff like this happens in Nantong all the time. The people raise their hands in support of shutting down the Beijing liaison offices.

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