China has launched a special task force to ramp up political policing to maintain social stability, according to the official Procuratorial Daily. It is latest move to rein in dissent over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus and protests in Hong Kong.
The task force should “crack down on all kinds of infiltration, subversion, sabotage, violent terrorist activities, ethnic separatist activities, and extreme religious activities,” it said, citing undated notes from a meeting of the task force.
The news of the task force came on the same day that a Beijing law professor who has been an outspoken critic of China’s ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping was taken away by authorities.
The main responsibility of the task force is to safeguard China’s political system. “Political security is related to national safety and people’s well-being,” according to the notes.
Referencing the fight against coronavirus, the notes said a government can only guarantee its people’s safety if it maintains a stable political environment.
COVID-19 fuelled criticism
In February, as China faced an emergency following the spread of the coronavirus, Xi warned that social disorder could threaten the country’s fight against the pandemic.
There has also been speculation that the outbreak could threaten Xi’s hold on power, as criticism grew of his handling of the health emergency that left more than 4,600 people dead.
The task force is part of the “Build a Peaceful China” coordination group set up in April and led by Guo Shengkun, China’s top law enforcement official.
Its launch comes after China’s parliament passed national security legislation for Hong Kong at the end of June – legislation that punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with sentences of up to life in prison.
Hong Kong has been rocked by large, and sometimes violent, pro-democracy protests since mid-2019.
The new security laws have been criticised by pro-democracy activists, lawyers and foreign governments who fear it would be used to stifle dissent and undermine freedoms the former British colony was promised when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The day after the law came into effect, one man was arrested for carrying a Hong Kong independence flag.
It has also been reported that Hong Kong libraries have taken at least nine titles written by pro-democracy advocates out of circulation pending a review of whether the books contravene the new legislation.