Media criticize Beijing measures to “return” migrant workers to the countryside before 2008 Olympic Games

Over the weekend domestic media questioned proposed measures that would mean deportation of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Beijing before the 2008 Olympic Games.

The measures, reportedly announced by Beijing 2008 Environmental Construction Headquarters officials on September 14, would mean use of a strategy of “comprehensive return to the countryside” (整建制劝返回乡) and “strengthening of aid programs” to deal with Beijing’s massive population of migrant workers and vagrants, including an estimated one million construction workers [Reuters coverage via The Guardian].

The news, reported by Beijing media on Friday, met with denial from officials. But several papers continued to express their doubts the next day, and a prominent editorial a Henan commercial newspaper dragged in the issue of freedom of expression, saying China’s less privileged should have a voice in policy decisions directly impacting them:

Henan Commercial Daily
September 16, 2006

The Beijing Olympics are Olympics for the whole of the country, not an Olympics to be held after the peasants have been weeded out; the Beijing Olympic site is being constructed with the sweat of migrant workers, and without their labors there would be no beautiful Olympics. Now, in order that the Olympics show her prettiest side to the world, and because this group, migrant workers, obtrudes the city’s image, they are to be “returned to the countryside”. This kind of dispensing of people once they’ve done their task goes against the spirit of a humane Olympics.

But what I care about more than the idea of this “returning” is the question: were peasants included in the discussion about this “returning”. According to news reports, “returning” [of migrant workers] is Beijing’s initial suggestion for dealing with [this issue]. What we can be sure about is that the voices of policy-makers are included in this suggestion, the voices of Beijing residents might be included in this suggestion – but the voices of peasant workers have been excluded. This is an intrusion on the rights of participation of a group that has done its part for the Olympics.

If migrant workers had been consulted in this opinion about “returning”, I am confident these migrant workers would not have wished to accept it, and not simply because they want to be a part of the Games themselves. The Olympics are one thing, but for these migrant workers the most important thing of all is being able to work and make money to support themselves and their families …

The disregard for those governed in governing measures has lately become a common sight in social management. One recent example is the resumption of the “residency permit” system in Zhengzhou City. We won’t talk here about whether these methods [in Zhengzhou] are pertinent or not, but clearly in the discussion of reinstituting the “residency permit” system, there was no inclusion of the voices of the migrant groups who were affected.

Freedom of expression (言论自由) is the greatest freedom. Without freedom of expression there can be no equality of rights and benefits. By looking at the decisions of Beijing concerning the “return” of migrant workers we can see the trueness of this. Because if there is no opportunity for equal expression, then there is no avoiding the implementation of those measures that are disadvantageous to oneself and intrude on one’s rights. For the weak segments [of our society], the opportunity to speak is more important than a table of food.

[Posted by David Bandurski, September 18, 2006, 11:53pm]

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