A senior Communist official who helped defuse a rare revolt by villagers in southern China said the country should be ready for more protests as people demand their rights, state media reported Tuesday.
Zhu Mingguo compared the situation in the village of Wukan, where residents angered by years of illegal land grabs drove out their Communist leaders, to an apple that appears healthy but is “rotten to the core”.
“In this area, there were a lot of problems that were not found out in time, and once violence erupted, the aftermath was serious,” the state-run Guangzhou Daily quoted Zhu as telling a meeting on social stability Monday.
“It is like an apple rotten to the core, on the outside the skin is red, but once broken open the mess can’t be cleaned up.”
The Wukan protest became a symbol of rising public anger over a plethora of perceived injustices, from corruption to income disparities, that analysts say will bring growing difficulties forChina’s leaders as economic growth slows.
The village is in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong, China’s manufacturing heartland, where thousands of factory workers have gone on strike in recent months as slowing export demand forces manufacturers to cut pay.
The Wukan residents ended their stand-off with the local government last week after Zhu, deputy Communist party secretary for Guangdong, called their complaints “reasonable” and said three detained protest leaders would be freed.
Hours later, the residents tore down the protest banners and removed road blocks set up around the village.
The three detained protest leaders have since been released, and a local government committee tasked with investigating the villagers’ complaints has been dispatched to Wukan.
On Monday Zhu said the protests, which attracted worldwide media attention, resulted from local leaders’ failure to address the villagers’ complaints and refusal to consult them on decisions about collectively owned land.
And he warned of further unrest in China if such problems were not addressed.
“The public’s awareness of democracy, equality and rights is continually getting stronger, and as a result their demands are growing,” he said at the meeting.
“The task of managing the masses is becoming more and more difficult.”
China’s ruling Communist party lays great emphasis on the need for stability and social harmony, and analysts say its paramount concern is to be seen to be able to manage unrest.
Authorities launched a crackdown on dissent this year following anonymous Internet calls for protests in China sparked by the political upheaval in the Arab world.
In recent days, two veteran activists with a history of criticising China’s one-party government have been given long jail sentences for subversion, drawing criticism from the United Nations.
Concerns over unrest are running particularly high ahead of a generational leadership transition that will start next year, when President Hu Jintao steps down as head of the Communist party.
The new party head will take over Hu’s state presidency in March 2013, when Premier Wen Jiabao and his government will also step down.
Last week China’s security chief, politburo member Zhou Yongkang, urged authorities to resolve conflicts swiftly, saying 2012 was a year of “special significance” to the country’s development.