Social Unrest, Economic Changes Foster Increasing Crime in China

Gun and drug dealing by organized crime syndicates has accelerated

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

EVERY year during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Qu Fengla looks forward to sitting outside her small house with neighbors and viewing the moon.

But this year is different. As the festival began early Tuesday, eight Beijing residents were massacred by a rampaging gunman on a thoroughfare crowded with rush-hour traffic and at least 30 were injured, some likely from police firing.

``I planned to watch the moon tonight. But now I think I'll stay inside and lock my door,'' the doctor said after she heard about the stunning violence in the normally tightly controlled Chinese capital.

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Many Chinese are increasingly worried about a wave of violent crime sweeping the country in the wake of fast economic change and social unrest.

Tuesday's battle involving the gunman and dozens of heavily armed uniformed and plain-clothes security men is a symptom of the spiral of murder, rape, kidnapping, and gun-and-drug trafficking in many Chinese cities and rural areas, Chinese and Western analysts say.

The gunman fired wildly with an assault rifle on a motorcycle, taxicab, and bus before being shot dead by the phalanx of police. Beijing police yesterday identified the gunman as Tian Mingjian, an Army first lieutenant. Possession of what was believed to be an AK-47 assault rifle and witnesses' observation that he arrived in a police jeep, possibly trailed by a security contingent, earlier suggested that he was a soldier or policeman, diplomats say.

The fact that he was a member of security forces highlights growing police and military involvement in gun-dealing and other crimes, Western diplomats say.

``Social upheaval is leading to this crime wave,'' says a Western diplomat who lives in a compound for diplomats overlooking the scene of the carnage. ``I stood in my window and watched this on the streets of the capital.''

Although China has never given many details about crime, the increase in violence has prompted officials to release some crime statistics in recent years and also to try and crack down.

During the first six months of 1994, crime rose 20 percent nationally, the government reported. That followed an increase of more than 6 percent in criminal cases in 1993, the Ministry of Public Security said. Every year, China admits to executing about 1,000 of its citizens for crime although Western observes say the actual number is probably higher.

In a move to curb the spread of illegal firearms, Beijing residents were ordered earlier this year to surrender all unauthorized weapons or face serious punishment.

According to Chinese press reports, authorities in Shandong and Fujian Provinces are stepping up efforts to clamp down on illegal arms sales and are discovering some of the largest unauthorized arms caches in years.

``Major vicious criminal cases are increasing, violent crimes are growing rapidly,'' Procurator-General Zhang Siqing said in an unusual official admission in March. (His position is similar to an attorney general.) ``The security situation in many rural areas is chaotic, crimes committed by gangs in the cities and towns are serious, and the populace does not feel safe.''

Although the official New China News Agency did not speculate on the motive in a brief report, diplomats and Chinese sources say the gunman was involved in an earlier shooting at a Beijing military enclave where other casualties were reported. Some diplomats suggested the man was tracked from the enclave by a security contingent.

After arriving in a police jeep, Tian ran down the crowded street, shooting randomly at a passing bus and then tried to commandeer a taxi. He shot the taxi driver and passenger point-blank when they tried to jump out of the vehicle. Later, he was killed by police as he attempted to flee.

``The police were firing everywhere, like it was a battlefield,'' said a foreign resident who witnessed the confrontation from a nearby building.

The Iranian Embassy has protested to the Chinese government that one of its diplomats, who was driving his children to school and was killed along with one of his sons, was shot by the police. According to a radio announcement from Tehran, Iran plans to conduct its own investigation.

Although Chinese officials tout success in crime-fighting, the spread of illegal weapons has accelerated, especially in the countryside where security and control has broken down. Guns have proliferated due to dealing by organized-crime syndicates and drug traffickers, especially in Yunnan Province and other areas of southwest China.

The government also admits that some law-enforcement officials have taken part in smuggling from Hong Kong, including gun-running, Hong Kong officials say.

Security personnel out of the control of central authorities also have been involved in violent crime. In March, a boatload of Taiwanese tourists were allegedly robbed and murdered on a lake in Fujian Province by a band of renegade soldiers, Taiwanese officials charge. The Chinese government denies that any soldiers were involved.

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