Police lock down Beijing financial district as protesters gather

Demonstrators angry at losses from risky peer-to-peer investment business

A police officer speaks with a petitioner  as security personnel look on opposite China’s Banking Regulatory Commission in Beijing on Monday. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

A police officer speaks with a petitioner as security personnel look on opposite China’s Banking Regulatory Commission in Beijing on Monday. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

 

A major police presence sealed off a large section of Beijing’s financial district as petitioners gathered to protest over losses from investing in risky and unregulated peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms.

Scores of public buses were mobilised to remove the demonstrators who had gathered around the China Banking Regulatory Commission in the city’s financial district, to the west of Tiananmen Square.

Overseas Chinese media posted footage online of police arguing with petitioners who had been rounded up from the area around the financial district, while AFP showed images of windows being taped up to stop petitioners handing out pamphlets as they were being rounded up.

Problems in the P2P investment business, estimated by Bloomberg to be worth €167 billion annually and with 50 million users, have been brewing for a while. The sector is largely unregulated and many investors have not been able to access their funds in recent weeks.

Some of the failed P2P platforms have defaulted and disappeared with investors’ money, while others have been closed by authorities or investigated by police.

One P2P investor told The Irish Times he had gone to join the protests, which had largely been organised on social media, but ran off when he saw the large police deployment.

Tight grip

Although President Xi Jinping keeps a tight grip on dissents and employs a vast security apparatus to crush any demonstrations that might undermine the rule of the Communist Party, the capital regularly sees protests in the summer months when the temperature rises.

Last week, a group of parents demonstrated outside a government office in Beijing to protest over faulty vaccines for diphtheria, rabies and tetanus and calling for better drug safety standards.

These protests often coincide with the leadership’s annual trip out of the city to the Beidaihe resort town for unofficial consultations, although this gathering has become less important in the last few years as Mr Xi has centralised power in China around himself.

In March, Mr Xi abolished term limits on his presidency and he can now technically rule beyond the usual end of his term in 2022.

Causing a stir

Formal resistance is impossible, but opposing views do make themselves heard occasionally. A senior liberal academic, Xu Zhangrun, last month published an outspoken, carefully formulated 10,000-character critique that is reportedly causing a stir among senior party members and is being pored over by China-watchers.

“Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” denounces many of Mr Xi’s policies, including the approach of building propaganda around himself and his turn towards more orthodox Marxist policies.

Constitutional changes

He has called for the constitutional changes allowing Mr Xi to rule indefinitely to be reversed, for examination of a network of “supervisory committees” put in place by the president and also for a reassessment of the crackdown on the 1989 democracy protests.

“Xu Zhangrun’s powerful plea is not a simple work of ‘dissent’, as the term is generally understood in the sense of samizdat protest literature,” Geremie Barmé, who edits the China Heritage journal that published a translation of the essay with a commentary.

“Given the unease within China’s elites today, its implications are also of a different order from liberal pro-Western ‘dissident writing’. Xu has issued a challenge from the intellectual and cultural heart of China to the political heart of the Communist Party,” he wrote.