Beijing Representative Offices of Local Governments Prepare to Retreat

By Chen Yong
Published: 2010-04-28

Nation, page 12, issue 465, April 20, 2010
Translated by Tang Xiangyang
Original article:

Four months ago, the central government announced that all Beijing government representative offices of or below county-level, were to be eliminated. However, no further instructions followed the announcement. Now, the order is beginning to take shape.

On April 1, the State Council held a video conference to discuss the ordering of representative offices from the capital. Ma Kai, general secretary of the State Council, said local governments were prohibited from retaining their Beijing representative offices and the employees of such offices should be dismissed.

"[The time to exit] finally came," according to the head of the Beijing representative office of one small county in Hubei Province who'll we refer to as "Zhang Chengxiang," although that is not his real name.

Hubei has already released a project plan called Eliminating Beijing Representative Offices of Local Governments (Hubei exit project); it sets a timetable for the exit of 54 of its 71 Beijing representative offices. The representative offices of the province itself, its capital city – Wuhan – and another twelve cities and three counties directly under the control of the provincial government, will remain.

Before the publication of the list, many fought to retain a foothold; the offices who failed to get permission to stay are now dealing with the tasks of dismissing their current employees and selling-off their assets.

Beijing Representative Offices

Before the list was released, Zhang Chengxiang was required by the government of his county to try to retain his office by lobbying higher level decision-makers in Beijing. His county also tried to lobby the provincial government.

Zhang invited the head of a higher-level representative office to dinner. At the dinner, the latter promised to "consider" retaining Zhang's office; however, two days later Zhang was told to prepare his office for exit.

"Our town is assisted [by some ministries] and some of our projects are still being worked on. Can you please make an exception?" Zhang asked on the phone.

The answer was no.

Zhang Chengxiang then summoned all of his employees and released the news that their office was to be eliminated.

"It was a quiet meeting, no one spoke. They were all mulling over their possible fate," Zhang said.

Compared with county-level representative offices, city-level offices fared much better, the Hubei provincial government has decided to retain all of them.

One of the reasons these municipal offices are being allowed to remain is that the government still needs them to deal with local residents who travel to Beijing to petition the central government about perceived injustices, according to a city-level official. The task of dealing with petitioners is often euphemistically referred to as  "maintaining social stability" or 维稳工作 (wéi wěn gōngzuò) in Chinese.

Li Jieyun, a pseudonym for the head of the Beijing representative office of a city in Hebei, revealed that most of the pressure he faced on the job was associated with this task of "maintaining social stability"

"If not handled well, those people [the petitioners] can create big problems and affect the political prospects of my superiors," Li said.

Beijing Representative Offices Exit

For the more fortunate employees, whose offices have been allowed to stay, questions remain: What are their new responsibilities? What agency will they work for? How many of them will be employed?

There are only seven people in Zhang Chengxiang's office, among whom, only he and the vice-director receive the benefits of being a civil servant; the other five are external staff.

"We have been colleagues for many years and we get along well. It'll be hard to dismiss them. Aunt Zhang, for example, has been the office cleaning lady for ten years," Zhang said.

Aunt Zhang, 55, a Henan local, has two children, one is working in Shenzhen and the other is studying in Beijing. According to the Hubei exit project plan, she will receive some compensation after being dismissed.

Another difficulty for Zhang Chengxiang is how to price his office's assets when selling them to a higher level government office selected by the government. His Beijing courtyard office was bought for 4.8 million yuan but is now worth close to 20 million yuan,a price the designated buyer is unwilling to pay.

"We won't sell it at too low of a price, but the higher level office cant afford to pay what we're asking for," Zhang said. He went on to say that though it has been determined that these assets must be sold, the designated buyer may not be willing to buy because the assets are not easy to manage and the deal has to pass through the many audits of various levels of government.

The head of a Shandong Province city-level Beijing representative office echoed Zhang's view.

"For Beijing representative offices, at or above city-level, purchasing the assets of their counterparts at or below county-level is a catch-22. They can't afford to pay high prices, but a low price will be scrutinized by the auditing agency," he said.

The Road Ahead

All of the 54 Beijing representative offices at or below county level of Hubei Province will exit Beijing before June 20.

The Government Offices Administration of the State Council will issue policies to regulate the offices of local governments that remain in Beijing by formulating their responsibilities, organizing their structure and creating a standard for staff integration, according to Li Ancai, director of the Beijing Representative Offices Information Association.

According to the Hubei exit project plan, local counties and districts will be allowed to send representatives to city-level Beijing Representative offices after their own offices are eliminated; those representatives will be responsible for "maintaining social stability" for local governments.

An insider revealed, in some cases the former employees of eliminated representative offices will simply change their positions and continue to work in Beijing. Those Beijing representative offices who have already become enterprises or representative institutions of enterprises will cooperate with local governments to ensure that local projects continue smoothly.

Zhang Chengxiang said, the decision to force the exit of certain representative offices was too sudden. All the local governments wanted to do was hold onto their money and their projects, due to the forced exit they will suffer great losses.

The lobbying that local governments engages in when trying to attract investment from Beijing can be very expensive, somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 yuan for each project. Without representative offices this cost will double and may even triple or become ten times higher in the future. He said, the employees of Beijing representative offices know Beijing well and can easily get things done.

Zhang admitted there were bribes and corruption, but stated that bribes and corruption would remain even without Beijing representative offices.

"Without county-level Beijing representative offices local governments will be even busier when the NPC and CPPCC are held every year. The biggest task of county-level Beijing representative offices is 'maintaining social stability'. Those higher level government offices only call and tell us what to do. Who will do our job in the future?" Zhang Chengxiang continued.

According to rules outlined by his city, Zhang Chengxiang will be assigned to a new position in Beijing with his main responsibilities being the "maintaining social stability", lobbying for aid from the central government and promoting local agricultural products. Yet a friend recently called him and revealed that he might be assigned a post in a neighboring county.

"Maybe I'll return to my town or get a position in a neighboring town. Nothing is settled. Anyway, my office is still working," Zhang said.

Links and Sources

Hubei Government Website:湖北省人民政府办公厅关于印发湖北省贯彻落实国务院办公厅关于加强和规范各地政府驻京办事机构管理的意见实施方案的通知
Sina: Image

This article was edited by Rose Scobie