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:
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:
Can you even say stuff like that?
Harmonious society…watch yourself
支持 说的太好了 腐败太重了哦
“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!