16 October 2019
A migrant worker leaves a Daxing suburb after Beijing authorities carried out large-scale demolition of what they claimed were illegal structures. Photo: Reuters
A migrant worker leaves a Daxing suburb after Beijing authorities carried out large-scale demolition of what they claimed were illegal structures. Photo: Reuters

The hypocrisy of Beijing party boss Cai Qi

It is no surprise that bureaucrats around the world often say one thing and do another. Still, one cannot help but gasp at the scale of hypocrisy that Cai Qi, the party boss of Beijing municipality, has displayed in relation to the recent crackdown on the so-called “low-end population” in China’s capital city.

On November 18, a deadly fire broke out in a run-down residential building in the Daxing suburb in Beijing and killed 19 people.

After that, on the orders of Cai, Beijing authorities mounted a citywide fire safety inspection campaign and demolished “illegal structures” across the city indiscriminately. Many of the units were actually dwellings of migrant workers, and the demolition left hundreds of thousands of poor people living on the outskirts of Beijing homeless overnight.

Worse still, alongside the swift and relentless demolition of the homes also came a massive eviction of migrant workers from the capital, a controversial measure that has provoked a widespread backlash from the media and the public across the mainland.

Amid fierce criticism, Cai expressed his position on the issue in public for the first time on November 27, urging the authorities to “demonstrate humanitarian compassion for the underprivileged” when carrying out his order.

Then on December 3, Cai, along with the acting mayor of Beijing Chen Jining, visited a community and ordered authorities to stay the course in serving the people in order to make their lives more convenient and make Beijing “warmer”.

During his visit he told a cobbler who had come from Anhui province, in a rather fervent and genuine tone, that “the services you provide are what this city needs, and I am grateful to you for your hard work.”

Just when people were starting to believe that the savage eviction of migrant workers and the destruction of their homes could have been the result of hasty and inconsiderate execution of Cai’s otherwise well-intentioned order by the local law enforcement, a two-minute video clip showing Cai addressing members of the party committee during an internal meeting went viral on the internet in recent days.

In the video, Cai can be seen speaking angrily and ferociously to his subordinates and ordering them in no uncertain terms that they must show no mercy and not be afraid of “seeing blood on the bayonet” when carrying out his demolition and eviction orders.

The video clip simply showed the real Cai Qi that is completely different from the one who came across as being soft-spoken and compassionate in state propaganda.

While the Beijing municipal government has repeatedly denied having used the term “low-end population” to refer to migrants workers in Beijing, internal official documents that have come to light recently have suggested otherwise.

For example, in a document on the planning of the new Daxing city (2005-2020) released back in 2007, article 31 proposed to prevent “low-end population” from gathering in the new downtown area.

And another two internal documents published earlier this year also mentioned “cleaning up the low-end population in Beijing”.

What is more, while the Beijing authorities have insisted that the recent crackdown on illegal structures was aimed at eliminating fire hazards across the city and prevent a tragedy of the kind seen in Daxing from happening again elsewhere, official records indicate that Cai had targeted the demolition of “illegal structures” of some 50 million square meters and the eviction of 17,000 undocumented households across the capital back in October last year.

In other words, if anything, the fire in the Daxing suburb in November only provided Cai with an excuse to expedite his existing plan to purge the capital of “low-end population”.

As a matter of fact, the most fundamental reason why Cai is so eagerly and aggressively pressing ahead with his demolition and eviction projects is that he is trying to advance his own political career by kissing up to President Xi Jinping and carrying out his 2014 order of developing the capital into the political, cultural, international exchange and high-tech center of the country.

And in the eyes of the Beijing municipal government, the “low-end population”, most of who are impoverished and uneducated migrant workers from poor provinces, are nothing but a disgrace to the booming capital city.

These migrant workers might have contributed a lot to Beijing’s urban development in the past, but now that it has already become an international metropolis, these poor and shabby untouchables are of no use to the great capital city anymore, and therefore it’s time for them to pack up and leave!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor