28 Central Government Bureaus Establish Joint Mechanism to Resolve Petitioning Issues

December 6, 2004

According to reports in both the Beijing News and the South China Morning Post, Chinese central authorities have established a joint conference mechanism to handle the increasing number of citizen petitions to the central government.

Many reports indicate that a rapid increase in the number of citizen petitions to China's xinfang ("letters and visits") bureaus is straining the government's ability to respond. Petitioning practices sometimes result in destabilizing protests and riots but rarely resolve individual grievances. For further information, see the access to justice section of the Commission's 2004 Annual Report.

According to the articles, the 28 bureaus in question created a joint coordination mechanism to better address petitions to central government institutions. The interbureau effort seeks to reduce the number of petitions to Beijing (and reduce the resulting challenges to social order) by increasing the pressure on local governments to resolve petitions locally. The plan also creates subgroups on specific issues that often result in petitions, such as land seizures.

Observers of China’s xinfang system believe that the problems of both petitioning practices and the system itself generally are structural. It is not yet clear whether the new coordination mechanism represents a serious effort to address these issues or just an effort to concentrate government energies on resolving particularly pressing petitions.