Trend spotting in China is often a perilous exercise. The country is so big that you can easily pick a few cases to make one argument, then find a few more to make the opposite point. That’s especially true when considering political reform, where so much of the action is out of the public eye. Some new numbers on political arrests in China are the closest thing to empirical evidence that some sort of crackdown has been underway in the past few years. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based human rights group, the number of arrests on the main political charge, “endangering state security,” doubled last year. The first few paragraphs of their release are quoted below. The entire report is here. It’s worth noting that these numbers themselves don’t provide a complete picture, but the jump is so significant that it’s worth pointing out.
Chinese arrests for “endangering state security” (ESS) doubled in 2006 over the previous year, according to official statistics recently released by the Chinese government.
The just-published 2007 China Law Yearbook reveals that in 2006 state prosecutors approved the arrest of 604 individuals detained by public security and state security police in ESS cases, up from 296 in 2005. This marks the highest number of ESS arrests in China since 2002.
The statistics also show the initiation of prosecutions in 258 ESS cases involving 561 individuals in 2006, compared to 185 cases involving 349 people in 2005.
“These are some of the only official numbers that the Chinese government publishes with respect to its handling of political crime,” notes John Kamm, executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation. “This dramatic increase in arrests confirms the heightened crackdown on dissent in China that we’ve been witnessing since at least the middle of 2005.”