Kashgar Authorities Announce "Zero Tolerance" for Petitioning Higher Level Authorities About Old City Demolition

March 26, 2010

Local authorities in the far western region of Xinjiang have implemented measures to curb citizen petitioning to higher levels of government over grievances connected to a demolition and resettlement project in the Old City section of Kashgar. Local officials say that they have resolved residents' problems and that no households have taken their grievances to higher administrative levels. Information from non-Chinese sources indicates the project has drawn opposition from Uyghur residents and other observers for requiring the resettlement of residents and for undermining heritage protection. At the same time, Xinjiang officials continue to assert that the project adheres to international standards. As demolition work continues, authorities say they will hire some workers locally, in accordance with a government directive, but also will look outside Xinjiang to recruit half the workers needed.

Authorities in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), have implemented measures to curb citizen petitioning to higher levels over grievances connected to a demolition and resettlement project in the Old City section of Kashgar. According to a March 4 Xinjiang Daily report (via Xinhua), authorities in Kashgar have resolved residents' concerns about the project and have implemented a "zero-tolerance system" (lingkongzhi) to control petitions to higher level authorities. Authorities have included the rate at which officials "stop appeals and end complaints" (xisu bafang) and lower the rate of "serious letters and visits" (zhongxin zhongfang) in evaluations of "cadre effectiveness" (ganbu jixiao) and "peaceful construction" (ping'an jianshe). While spreading information on the "necessity, urgency, and significance" of the demolition project, authorities have visited local households to "coordinate and solve" existing problems. To date, no households have taken grievances to authorities at a higher administrative level, the article reported.

Although the reported lack of petitioners seeking to resolve their grievances at higher administrative levels could indicate successful dispute resolution as described in the article, the attention to enforcing a "zero-tolerance system"―against a backdrop of measures to stem petitioning across China and political pressures to implement the Kashgar demolition―also could indicate that authorities have applied harsher tactics to prevent citizens from airing grievances through the petitioning system. As reported in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2009 (p. 238) and 2008 (p. 165-166) Annual Reports, Chinese regulations allow citizens to petition the government, but the government creates incentives for officials at various levels of government to curb petitioning. Citizens who take their grievances to authorities through the petitioning system may face official retribution, harassment, violence, or detention.

As reported in previous CECC analyses (1, 2), overseas media reports that cite local residents indicate that the five-year Kashgar demolition project, launched in 2009, has drawn opposition from the Old City's Uyghur residents and other observers for requiring the resettlement of residents and for undermining heritage protection. A Kashgar official, speaking at a press conference during the annual meeting of the National People's Conference in early March 2010, stressed that the project adhered to national and international standards and had support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), according to March 8 reports from Xinhua (via People's Daily) and Xinjiang News Net. A January 13 article from the Global Post indicated, however, that UNESCO had reservations about the project. A March 23 Urumqi Online article (via Xinhua), citing information from the Kashgar government, reported that the most difficult challenge in the reconstruction work was the relationship between earthquake-proofing houses and protection of the historic city. After experimenting with four methods of reconstruction during pilot projects in 2009―systematic razing of structures and construction of high rises; "self razing and systematic reconstruction"; carrying out preservation work; and leaving structures as is―authorities found that the second method was "fairly good" at solving problems in reconstruction work and heritage preservation, according to an official cited in the report. (See a September 14, 2009, Xinhua article and November 10 Xinjiang News Net article for further details on this second method, describing some input and participation in the reconstruction process by residents. See the March 4 Xinjiang Daily report for references to other types of razing and reconstruction.) After carrying out construction at five pilot sites in 2009, the work will be expanded in 2010 in accordance with "the people's will," but reconstruction work for the year has not yet been launched, according to the article.

According to the Kashgar District Municipal Construction Bureau, the demolition project needs more than 100,000 workers in 2010, another March 8 Xinjiang News Net article reported. To date, 50 percent of the workers have been recruited from the local surplus labor force, in accordance with the requirement that local workers comprise no fewer than 50 percent of the workforce, the article reported. The project still lacks 50,000 workers, especially skilled workers, from the interior of China, according to the article. The article did not describe why some of this shortage could not be filled locally. The XUAR government and Party Committee implemented an opinion on employment promotion in October 2009 that calls for enterprises registered in the XUAR and other enterprises contracted to work there to recruit no fewer than 50 percent of workers from among the local population. The opinion also calls for "recruiting more ethnic minorities to the extent possible" but does not specify a hiring quota, according to a description of the opinion in a September 24 Xinjiang Daily report, via Xinjiang Economic Net. A document on implementing the opinion (via China Xinjiang, February 10) elaborates only that employers are to pledge a fixed proportion of positions for ethnic minorities in the process of prioritizing recruitment of college graduates from the XUAR.

For additional information on the Kashgar project and conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report