The capital's population is rising by a half-million every year, mostly migrants from other parts of China. Authorities have responded with a new "population evacuation" policy.
Beijing crowds (Mike Beltzner)
EYES INSIDE - CHINA
"Beijing welcomes you!" A slogan used during the 2008 Olympic Games in China's capital is about to ring with irony for many, as the city plans to carry out one of its five-year-plan policies to control the rapid growth of the city's population – currently an overwhelming 19.72 million, with 500,000 more coming each year. Half of the people in the city are migrants from other areas of China.
Three measures are to be enforced to activate this so-called "population evacuation" policy, according to the proposal announced last month just before the Chinese New Year: Resident Permit Control, Housing Control, and Industry Control, according to the Beijing-based weekly Economic Observer News.
"Resident Permit" control, which will replace the current "Temporary resident card," will be a new layer of bureaucratic verification on top of the existing ‘Hukou" system to check residence in Beijing.
Housing Control will force industries to provide dormitories or other housing for their workers in the satellite towns outside of Beijing. In addition, stricter regulations will be introduced to enforce higher standards of living conditions for rental houses. This is expected to raise rental costs, and automatically "squeeze out" the working poor class.
Industry Control is the process of getting ‘low-end industries' and their ‘low-end workers' to leave the city. According to the Economic Observer News, in the experimental satellite town of Xunyi developed seven years ago as such city, the government set up eight collection points for recycling garbage. This has almost doubled the collection efficiency and thus reduced the number of sanitation workers required from three 3,000 to just more 800. Enterprises are also given financial incentives to hire local workers instead of migrants, dubbed the Xunyi model.
The government of Hebei Province where Beijing is located devising specific plans to move some 2.8 million people out of Beijing over the next five years, to settle in the three future new towns – Jing East, Jing South and Jing North. Even people who have been living in the traditional quarters of Beijing for centuries are not exempt from Industry Control. Seven hundred thousand of them will be squeezed out.
According to a report on the Liao Wang website, the Beijing West Side Housing Commission is convinced that removing a large section of the population will create better quality living conditions. "But," the report points out, "the inhabitants themselves have not been asked their opinion."
Certain experts think that "these measures are transitional ones necessary to create the conditions for a future market-based solution", according to the Economic Observer. Critics label this policy "wholesale demolition" according to Liao Wang.
The forcible removal of people from their homes has been happening throughout China as local governments push forward with new developments. There have been cases of self-immolation in protest. One man in Zhejiang province who refused to move was recently run over by a truck, with accusations that it was a hit-and-run job on orders of the local mayor.
It used to be the policy of the government to limit Beijing's population to 16.25 million by the year 2010. They also calculated that the maximum population that could be sustained in the city would be 17.5 million. Given that the current population of 19.72 million, a policy which squeezes out two million people will only bring the population down to this maximum limit figure.
Transport, employment, health and educational facilities are all seriously overstretched. Water too is in very limited supply, with each Beijing resident having only 210 cubic meters per year at his disposal, about a tenth of the national average.
Yet the new population enforcement policy is not bad news for all. Some migrant workers who are already homeowners may be able to obtain the Resident Permit which finally allows them full access for their children's education, social protection, medical facilities, car purchase and other services they have often been shut off from.
"The very difficulty is how to actually draw up the implementation methods of Resident Permit, because the balance has to be found between population control and rights of citizens so that the population is controlled while the city still guarantees its attractiveness', said Professor So-Long Mao of Renmin University.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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