Sep 27, 2012 06:32 PM

Stability Agency Rises in Stature


(Beijing) – A unique but powerful agency designed to maintain social stability in China went on a recruitment drive for high-level officials this year, and sources say the reshuffle indicates a boost in its influence. 

Once known as the Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Public Security, the agency was renamed last year as the Central Committee for Comprehensive Social Management. It has recently assigned more provincial heads to lead local branches and underwent revisions to its scope of responsibilities.

The Communist Party body is headed by Zhou Yongkang, head of the Ministry of Public Security. Zhou has a seat on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee.

In the past year, many provinces, including Henan, Fujian and Guizhou, raised the agency's profile by making their provincial party secretaries the chair of the provincial version of the committee. Other provinces have a deputy party secretary in the role.

The 2011 renaming coincided with a restructuring that added 11 new subdivisions. The move generated public enthusiasm over possible reforms to "social stability" measures, namely, that domestic security apparatuses could move toward greater regulatory compliance.

"Social management covers not only public safety but also public services, crisis management, education, social welfare and other areas," said Wang Yukai, a professor of the Chinese Academy of Governance.

The current staffing of the agency shows an emphasis on cross-department powers. In more than 10 provinces and municipalities, local police chiefs are deputy chair of the committee.

The committee has long included representatives from the military. Sources said the increasingly diverse composition of leadership points to its broader coordination capabilities. 

Created in 1991, the security committee was designed to "strengthen and innovate social management so as to build a harmonious, stable society," Xinhua said. The official news agency described it as able "to address some major issues that could threaten social harmony and stability, such as criminal gangs and juvenile delinquency, while enacting laws and regulations for social management."

In many provinces, the committee shares the same staff and offices with the local political and legal commissions, bodies that oversee both courts and law enforcement.

The central committee has eight task forces targeting different areas: social stability, legislation, juvenile delinquency, campus safety, road protection, new economic and social organizations, and "disadvantaged groups." The latter includes freed prisoners, drug users, mental patients, HIV/Aids carriers and others.

The division on legislation is new and shares resources with the legal committee of the National People's Congress.

A source close to the situation said the task force "shows a subtle change among central leaders on how to maintain social stability. There might still be lots of ad hoc measures to target social crises, but in the long term we expect more coordinated implementation."

However legal experts say the social management should rely on the rule of law.

"Progress should not be an excuse to break existing laws," a legal scholar said. "We should amend our laws first, then move on to enforcement. Even so-called well-intentioned violations of the law are an obstacle to getting the legal system on track.

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