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28 May 2024

China to put rescue plan details online

Economic worries, including ensuring a stimulus package is properly used, are the main concerns for members of China's top political advisory body. (AP)


China has promised to publish details of a huge economic stimulus package on the internet after millions of online calls for transparency.

The move is seen by some observers as a sign of Beijing's growing internet savvy, although specifics will only be released after the government's budget and infrastructure projects are approved by the national legislature.

It means ordinary Chinese will not be given any direct say in who gets the stimulus money. The National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning body, will explain on its website how the government spends the $585 billion (Dh2.1 trillion) of stimulus money, the Xinhua news agency said on Sunday.

"It makes sense for people to show great concern about how the four-trillion-yuan stimulus package is spent, and related information shall be fully open to the public," said Mu Hong, a vice-minister of the commission.

Mu said details on projects would be released after approval.

The mere fact the government is releasing information on the package in a response to public demand is significant, observers said.

"The internet has thrived in China to give the public a new supervision platform and enable it to bargain with government agencies," said Hu Xingdou, an influential social scientist from Beijing Institute of Technology.

"Currently China is undergoing speedy social transformation, and there are lots of… tensions. This has forced the government to listen more to public opinion," he said.

China announced the stimulus plan in November as a key measure to boost its economy amid the global financial crisis. The money would be spent over two years to finance programmes in 10 sectors.

The move triggered a large public reaction, and as in other countries, the Chinese are concerned about what their tax money is spent on. Xinhua said millions of internet users had called on the commission to disclose details on the stimulus package as they were concerned about possible misuse of the enormous funds.

Yan Yiming, a Shanghai lawyer, filed requests with the government in January urging that details of the package be made public, and threatened a lawsuit if he was ignored, Xinhua reported.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has repeatedly said that corruption within the Communist Party is one of the greatest threats to its legitimacy.

However, with party chiefs having the final say on what figures are given out, and with no independent media to monitor, there are no guarantees all the information will be released.

The move to unveil details of the package reflects new government strategies in the face of the rising power of the internet, said David Zweig, a China expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"The Chinese Government has always recognised that the internet was a challenge. They want to maintain their monopoly on the means of communication," he said.

Political scientists are still debating what new technologies such as the internet and mobile telecommunications will mean for public participation in politics in China.

While these technologies can be instrumental in mobilising people for political causes, the Chinese Government has also been skillful in adopting these technologies.

For example, protesters in several large Chinese cities launched massive anti-Japanese demonstrations in early 2005, organised mainly via e-mails and short messages.

Initially, the authorities quietly allowed the demonstrations to go ahead, apparently in a bid to allow people to let off steam, but eventually reined them in, partly by sending millions of SMS messages discouraging protests.