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Xi signals shift in position from that of Hu Jintao

Signalling a shift from his predecessor's fixation with maintaining stability, President Xi Jinping has instructed China's security officers to balance their work against the need to protect the people's right to justice and social fairness.

Those who disobey his instructions would be punished based on a new accountability system to be set up, Xi said at the annual work conference of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) political and legal affairs commission, which oversees the country's police, prisons, judiciary and prosecutors.

During the two-day meeting that ended on Wednesday, he said ensuring social stability is the basic task of political and legal work, and promoting social justice and equality its core value.

"People's demands for their lawful interests must be properly handled, policies with a crucial impact on protecting people's interests must be improved, the position of the law in solving conflicts should be strengthened," Xi was quoted as saying in state media reports.

He also stressed that the relationship between preserving stability, or wei wen in Mandarin, and protecting people's rights, (wei quan) must be managed well.

Chinese analysts have been quick to note how Xi's comments differed from those of former president Hu Jintao, who made wei wen a top priority during his 10 years in power.

For instance, amid the fallout of the global financial crisis in late 2008, Hu declared stability to be "the overriding task", quoting a Deng Xiaoping slogan used only after the end of the Cold War and the student-led protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

From 2002 to 2012, China increased its budget allocation for internal security, which in 2011 outstripped defence spending for the first time.

No details on how Xi plans to balance wei wen and wei quan emerged from the work conference, which set out the five-year agenda of the commission, often referred to as zhengfa in short.

Renmin University analyst Zhang Ming thinks one early change could come in the form of stepped-up efforts against corrupt zhengfa officials. "Xi knows that there is a lot of corruption and abuse of power in zhengfa work. He also knows that nabbing more corrupt officials could boost his public image and popularity," Professor Zhang told The Straits Times.

At the meeting, Xi warned officials at all levels not to overstep legal limits, abuse their power or bend the law for personal gain. He also called for systems to be set up to "record, report and hold officials responsible for any interference in the judicial process".

Observers, citing proof from the meeting, say there is no doubting Xi's determination to revamp the security and judiciary systems.

He became the first CCP chief since former president Jiang Zemin in 1997 to attend the commission's work conferences. Such meetings are usually helmed by the commission's boss, currently Politburo member Meng Jianzhu.

Three members of the CCP's apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) attended this week's meeting, the highest number since 1997, when two PSC members attended.

Besides Xi, the other two were propaganda chief Liu Yunshan and Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.

"It shows zhengfa work has been upgraded in status and importance to Xi as a key part of his efforts to roll out comprehensive reforms across various fronts," said law professor Qin Qianhong of Wuhan University.

Analysts say Xi's increased attention towards controlling the security system could also be linked to persistent talk that he is set to purge former PSC member and security czar Zhou Yongkang.

Thus, Xi's remarks to rid zhengfa of "bad apples" can be seen as a warning, say observers.

"It is a warning to Zhou's cronies still in the zhengfa system that if they don't behave and submit to Xi's authority, they will come to no good," said Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam.


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