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Shenzhen to Crackdown on Gangs

Nation, Page 9, Issue 466, May 4
Translated by Tang Xiangyang
Original article:

A businessman from Taiwan who owns several companies in Shenzhen and Dongwan city told an EO reporter that recently he has been finding it difficult to get in touch with acquaintances who run karaoke or spa businesses in Shenzhen.

"At times when I give them a call, they say they are on a business trip in Southeast Asia or Taiwan," he said. 

 Things became clearer to him when he discovered that the Shenzhen government has been cracking down on gang crime.

"People running businesses such as karaoke or spas are more or less involved in gangs. They were able to sense the impending government crackdown and went into hiding," the businessman stated.

On March 30, the Shenzhen government held a press conference announcing its crackdown on gang crime across the city. The police said that so far, 67 gang criminals have been sentenced in Shenzhen, with the longest sentence of 20 years.

One month later, the Shenzhen police told an EO reporter that they had obtained many clues regarding local gangs and would track them down.

Because Guangzhou, a city located near Shenzhen is going to host the Asia Games in 2012 and Shenzhen is the host city of the World University Games in 2011, the local government must improve the social environment in and around the city.

Unwritten "Protection" Laws

There is a rule in Shenzhen that anyone who wants to do business, no matter how big or small, has to pay money to local gangs; otherwise they will be robbed or beaten.

Zheng Yuquan, a 38 year-old from Henan, has been a migrant worker in Shenzhen for 15 years. He once owned a small restaurant, then an Internet cafe and a salon in rural Shenzhen, but all of them have been forced shut by local gangs because Zheng could not afford to give them enough money for what they call a "profection fee".

Now, Zheng is a vegetable seller. He gets up at half past four every morning, buys vegetables from the wholesale market and then sells them to individual buyers.

"Today is a lucky day. I've earned enough to pay the 'protection fee' to [the local gang]," he said. He sold 50 yuan worth of vegetables today, but all of his profits, 20 yuan, has to be handed over to the local gang.

“Paying money to local gangs is a hidden rule in Shenzhen, especially in the outskirts of the city," he said.

At first Zheng Yuquan tried to refuse to pay the fee; then his restaurant, Internet cafe and salon were attacked by unidentified gang members with knives and iron clubs.

"I had to pay monthly fees of 3,000 yuan for my restaurant and 200 yuan per computer in my Internet cafe," Zheng said.

"After my restaurant was damaged there was nothing I could do. The police wouldn't help me. The gang members even threatened me right in front of the police," Zheng said. After being robbed and beaten several times, Zheng lost almost all of his property.

Now Zheng has to sell vegetables within the city while playing dodging city inspectors, but he still considers it better than doing business in the outskirts of town because the gangs where he is located only require him to give them 20 yuan per day.

"If I were in the rural area, I would have to pay 50 yuan per day," he said.

The discrepancy in protection fees is due to Zheng sharing a hometown with the local gang leader.

Shenzhen is a city where the migrant population greatly outnumbers the registered residents. Migrant workers tend to unite; this holds true for the local gangs.

A government worker responsible for security of a local community revealed to the EO, to manage vendors, he sometimes cooperates with gang members. Because community workers are incapable of managing vendors themselves and have to report their progress to their superiors, they hire local gangs to manage street vendors. In a few short days, the local gangs "take care of the matter". Local community workers then compensate the local gangs for their services.

Baishizhou Illegally Seized by Hong Kong "Godfather"

Baishizhou refers to five villages in rural Shenzhen where around 2,000 registered residents live. Polluted, underdeveloped and lacking adequate infrastructure, Baishizhou has been dominated by local gangs for many years. That is why representatives from the Nanshan District where Baishizhou is located have repeatedly mentioned the issue of Baishizhou's gang violence at China's two sessions.

"Because Baishizhou has been invaded by gangs, no proper managing authority exists and the interests of its villagers can not be protected; it is in chaos," the head of a Baishizhou investment company said.

"Shenzhen is near Hong Kong and Macao. It is easy for gangs in Hong Kong and Macao to infiltrate. Baishizhou is the best place for them to settle down," he continued.

According to the source mentioned above, gang members in the urban-rural outskirts always work individually while those in Baishizhou have to work for large gangs if they want to survive.

The Baishizhou community is a typical ghetto with a complex geography of criss-crossed alleys. Since a farming conglomerate called Shahe came into the community and took over their land, the residents have been left with nothing. Not well-educated, they are incapable of gaining employment and they lack social security. The only way for them to make a living is to rent out their homes.

Two years ago, a large fire broke out in a dance hall in Baishizhou; policemen, threatened and constrained by the local gangs, were unable to even enter the community.

"Now more than 100,000 people are living in Baishizhou, among which, only 1,800 are registered residents, creating a huge challenge to its stability and fire prevention. It is very difficult to manage this place," the head of the Baishizhou investment company mentioned above said.

"Last year, the local government gave us 81,600 square meters of land to manage. With investment into Baishizhou's environment, transportation, and public security, things have slightly improved."

"Yet with over 100,000 residents, there is still only one police station here. That's far from enough; they depend on our investment company."

However, even within the Baishizhou investment company, problems remain. There are not enough employees and they are frequently attacked by the local gangs.

"Currently the influence of gangs is slowly departing from Baishizhou, but organizations with the same criminal nature still exist," the above source with the investment company said.

Not the Same as Chongqing

In contrast to the high-profile announcement by officials of the Shenzhen government that they will take a tough line on local gangs, when the EO interviewed an official with the Ministry of Public Security, he was unwilling to speak about legal and political topics.

Li Tieshuai, head of the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau's publicity department, said to an EO reporter: "Shenzhen is different from Chongqing. We are just performing our normal duties to maintain stability in this city."

He said, the gang crime in Chongqing had affected the economic and social development of the city and therefore had to be dealt with; Shenzhen's local gangs are not as influential.

Li attributed the main reason for Shenzhen's crack down on local gangs to preparation for next year's World University Games.

An official with the Shenzhen Politics and Law Committee echoed Li's view: "According to China's conventions, it is usual for [local governments] to put public security in order when a large-scale international event is approaching."

According to the official from the Shenzhen Political and Law Committee, because of Shenzhen's proximity to Hong Kong and Macao, a large amount of foreign investment has poured into Shenzhen. This complex environment has made Shenzhen's action on cracking down on local gangs different from that of Chongqing.

"Statistics show that around 140 to 150 billion yuan is invested in Shenzhen every year, accounting for 40 to 50 percent of that of the entire country's investments." Such a vast amount of money has attracted lots of people with diverse intentions, creating a large challenge to local security.

An unnamed source from Shenzhen University said, foreign gangs have been in Shenzhen since the founding of the Special Economic Zone; they used it as a bridge to enter the Pearl River Delta and mainland China. Because gangs engage in lawful business and have connections to local officials, they are impossible to completely eliminate. Maybe that is why the Shenzhen government has to still be a bit soft when claiming to be tough.

This article was edited by Rose Scobie

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