The costs of order
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The Chinese government's obsession with maintaining social stability is unmatched anywhere else in the world. To forestall a possible, but unlikely, Chinese version of the "jasmine revolution", Beijing has put its internal security force on full alert, detained human rights activists, clamped down on the media and tightened the control of the Internet.
For most outsiders, such obsessive behaviour is inexplicable. After all, China is no tin-pot dictatorship. It has the world's largest communist party, which is in turn backed by the world's largest military force (in terms of the number of soldiers) and a mammoth internal security apparatus that consists of half a million paramilitary personnel, an unknown number of secret police, and several million policemen. Compared with personalistic autocrats in developing countries, the Chinese Communist Party is by far the most organised, effective and capable ruling elite.
Yet, even with no organised opposition challenging its rule and the majority of the Chinese population apparently content with their ever-rising standard of living, the Chinese Communist Party simply cannot relax. It devotes an inordinate amount of money and manpower to the defence and preservation of its political monopoly. Based on official statistics, the expenditures on "domestic stability maintenance" (mostly law enforcement) last year amounted to slightly over $100 billion, exceeding the national defence budget. While this figure strikes many inside China as excessive, it actually is not because in most countries law enforcement spending typically is greater than the national defence budget (the only exception is the United States, which spends more on national defence than law enforcement).
The trouble with China, of course, is that it is no ordinary country. In all likelihood, official expenditures on the so-called domestic stability maintenance operations vastly understate the actual amount spent on protecting the regime security of the Communist Party and social peace. For example, it is unlikely that the official numbers include off-the-book spending on Internet censorship. The budget for China's domestic secret police is most likely classified, hence excluded from the official data. Local governments in China routinely spend considerable amounts of money to maintain social stability. Their expenditures range from paying retirees a modest stipend to serve as members of neighbourhood surveillance teams to appeasing protestors with cash compensations. On average, more than 100,000 mass protests occur in China each year. Even a small percentage of them require local governments to offer cash compensations in order to resolve the disputes, and the sum can add up very quickly. The official expenditure data may not include additional spending on security operations in China's restive border regions, such as Xinjiang and Tibet, where ethnic tensions have risen dramatically the past few years, requiring the central government to deploy additional security forces and increase budgetary outlays for these areas.
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