Revised Social Order Regulation in Xinjiang Places New Emphasis on State Security

February 24, 2010

The Xinjiang government has revised a regulation on social order to place new emphasis on combating threats to state security. "Social order" regulations in China typically address general criminal activities, "social unrest," and other perceived threats to stability, and the Xinjiang regulation's new focus on state security is largely unseen in recent social order regulations elsewhere in the country. The revisions come as the Xinjiang government has strengthened security measures following unrest in the region in July. Xinjiang authorities have used security campaigns and charges of endangering state security to punish people for peaceful activism, free expression of ethnic identity, and independent religious activity.

A newly revised regulation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has redefined the region's priorities in maintaining social order (shehui zhi'an), placing new emphasis on combating perceived threats to state security in the region. The XUAR People's Congress Standing Committee made revisions to the XUAR Regulation on the Comprehensive Management of Social Order on December 29, 2009, effective on February 1, 2010. The government originally adopted the regulation in 1994 and made minor revisions in 1997; the current revisions supersede the 1997 version. Other provincial-level areas also maintain regulations on social order, in line with a national directive, and some include attention to state security threats. In an examination of national directives and recently adopted or revised social order regulations from other provinces, however, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) found that the XUAR regulation's new emphasis on state security is largely unseen in other localities as well as in the XUAR's own previous social order provisions. (See below for details.) The revisions in the XUAR come amid an array of recent steps to increase security in the region following unrest in July 2009. As described in the CECC 2009 Annual Report, the XUAR government has used security campaigns and charges of endangering state security to punish people for peaceful activism, free expression of ethnic identity, and independent religious activity. XUAR People's Congress Standing Committee chairperson Eligen Imibakhi said the revisions respond to "new conditions" in the region, especially as unrest in July demonstrated "problems" in the region's existing measures to maintain social order, according to a January 6 China News Net article.

Revisions Redefine Social Order Priorities in the XUAR

The revised XUAR regulation alters the region's framework for social order as defined in the 1997 version. The newly revised regulation places "striking hard" and preventing the "criminal activities of ethnic separatist forces, violent terrorist forces, and religious extremist forces that endanger state security" as the first of 12 "main tasks" for social order work, along with "upholding the unification of the country, ethnic unity, and social stability" (Article 5). The regulation targets general criminal activity and threats to social order as its second task, with managing work on religion and preventing, punishing, and banning illegal religious activities as its third. In contrast, the 1997 version defined its main tasks as broadly regulating social order by attacking, preventing, and reducing crimes and upholding the region's political and social stability (Article 3). The 1997 version included one article on strengthening regulation of religion and preventing the use of religion to carry out illegal and criminal activities (Article 32) and called for honoring people who contribute to the "battle" against separatist acts (Article 42(3)). At the same time, the 1997 version made no mention of the "three forces" [terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism] as a whole or of crimes of endangering state security. Multiple provisions in the newly revised regulation single out the "three forces" and state security crimes, calling for the judicial system to place priority on such issues, for government offices to punish creating, publishing, selling, or distributing materials with such content, and for village and urban residential committees to guard against sabotage and infiltration by the "three forces," among other examples. (See mention of these issues in Articles 11, 16, 25, 36(3), and 42(2), in addition to Article 5.) The revised regulation also calls for increased regulation of ethnicity and religion work, for preventing and banning illegal religious activities, and attacking criminal activities carried out in the name of "ethnic and religious issues" (Article 23). In addition, it increases oversight of floating populations, a focus consistent with central government concerns over migrant populations, but also with recent efforts in the XUAR to tighten control over this group following the July unrest. (See, e.g., the CECC 2009 Annual Report, page 261, and a November 23 Xinhua article.)

Both the recently revised XUAR regulation and the 1997 version, as well as social order regulations from other provinces, cite a national 1991 directive as the basis for the provincial-level legislation. The national directive, a March 1991 decision on strengthening the comprehensive management of social order from the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, broadly describes the main responsibilities for social order work to encompass fighting against crimes that harm society. The decision also stresses the importance of promoting education in law and political ideology among society, especially youth; encouraging people to participate in upholding social order; mediating civil disputes, mitigating "contradictions" in society, and eliminating causes of instability; and strengthening work toward criminals and people released from prison or reeducation through labor. The decision does not mention state security. Other national-level directives also have addressed social order work. A decision on strengthening the comprehensive management of social order issued in February 1991 by the Communist Party Central Committee and State Council is more detailed than the NPC Standing Committee's decision from the same year but includes a similarly broad definition of social order work. It includes one reference to promoting education in safeguarding state security. A 2001 opinion on further strengthening the comprehensive management of social order, also from the Communist Party Central Committee and State Council, expands on the February 1991 directive, citing new concerns about "ethnic separatist, religious extremist, and terrorist forces," and their "use of so-called ethnic, religious, human rights and other issues" to cause disturbances. Concrete measures in the 2001 directive continue, however, to focus on a broad array of perceived social order threats and do not single out religious or ethnic issues or mention state security, thereby not emphasizing these issues in a way seen in the revised XUAR regulation.

Xinjiang Regulation's Focus on State Security Largely Unseen Elsewhere in China

The revised XUAR regulation includes a degree of focus on state security largely unseen in the recent legislation of other provinces. In an examination of regulations revised or adopted by other provincial-level areas in recent years―those from Zhejiang, Hubei, Jilin, and Shanxi provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)―the CECC found that only the TAR regulation, adopted in 2007, includes a definition of the responsibilities for social order work that deviates significantly from the national directive described above and stresses some concerns similar to those in the XUAR regulation. The TAR regulation's definition includes emphasis on combating "infiltration and sabotage" by "separatist forces" as well as on targeting other criminal activity, and also stresses patriotism, ethnic unity, and strengthening management over religious activities (Article 4). The TAR regulation maintains this focus elsewhere within the regulation. See, e.g., Articles 10, 12, 16, 30, and 45(1) and 45(3). The regulations from both the XUAR and TAR reflect tight government controls in both places, where government authorities characterize the areas as facing heightened security threats, including separatist activity. Regulations from other provinces include limited mention of state security concerns or religion, but not as defining components of social order work. See, e.g., Articles 11, 16, and 18 in the Jilin regulation, Article 26 in the Zhejiang regulation, Article 13 in the Shanxi regulation, and Articles 9 and 13 in the Hubei regulation.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.