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The 610 Office: Policing the Chinese Spirit

September 23, 2011

selections from  China Brief Volume: 11 Issue: 17 for full article:  http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=38411&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=25&cHash=74e885364935de9c32e5aae19921ea6a

September 16, 2011 12:28 PM Age: 5 hrsBy: Sarah Cook, Leeshai Lemish


Numerous official websites from the past six months—in Beijing, Qingdao, Shandong, and Jiangsu among others—mention the 610 Office, an entity engaged in efforts to “carry out comprehensive investigations,” strengthen “transformation,” and prevent unwanted incidents (Pingyin.gov.cn, September 5; Jsrm.gov.cn, August 15; Laoshan.gov.cn, April 2011). A June 2011 article in a reputable Chinese magazine briefly referenced the 610 Office as a key component of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “stability-preservation work” (Caijing, June 6). What is the 610 Office? How and why did it come to exist? Why is it carrying out measures ostensibly under the purview of the Ministry of Public Security?

The answers to these questions point to the establishment of a CCP-based, rather than a state-based, security organization, as well as a revival of the use of security agencies to enforce ideological compliance. Moreover, the 610 Office signifies a systemic arrangement by CCP leaders to avoid the reach of legal reforms when dealing with a perceived existential threat to their power. The willingness and ability of CCP leaders to take such actions has implications not only for how we understand the trajectory of rule of law development in China, but also for how we might anticipate the regime responding to present and future threats to its security.

The 610 Office’s beginnings lie partly in the CCP’s tradition of “leading groups.” Since 1958, the CCP has used leading small groups (lingdao xiaozu) to coordinate and guide action on various issue areas. They are typically secretive, arbitrarily created and dissolved, and headed by members of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee. In 2008, Alice Miller counted eight such “primary” leading groups in operation, their responsibilities ranging from foreign affairs to economics, with subsidiary entities running down the Party’s system and State Council offices to execute policy ("The CCP Central Committee's Leading Small Groups," China Leadership Monitor, September 2, 2008).

There is however another key leading group strikingly out of character with the broad focus of each of the other leading groups: “The Leading Small Group for Preventing and Handling the Problem of Heretical Organizations” (zhongyang fangfan he chuli xiejiao wenti lingdao xiaozu). Originally called “The Leading Small Group for Handling the Falun Gong Issue” (falun gong wenti lingdao xiaozu), the name change suggests its activity has expanded since 1999 (Lstdww.gov.cn, August 10, 2011; Gxbobai.gov.cn, April 2010). Though Falun Gong remains the primary focus, its targets now include house church Christians, Buddhists and other religious or spiritual groups, and it has been renamed accordingly.

The 610 Office was formed concurrently as this leading group’s implementing body and is named after the date of its creation: June 10, 1999. “Six-ten” functions outside the state system without any official standing. At its core, the 610 Office is a plainclothes CCP-based extra-ministerial security force focused on suppressing the Falun Gong spiritual group. The leading group sets the policy direction, which the 610 Office executes.

After featuring briefly in news articles in 2000, the 610 Office has since garnered only occasional international attention, leading to a common misperception that it is defunct. Recent evidence—including eyewitness accounts, official online documents, United Nations reports, and Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) analysis—however, all points to an agency that remains active nationwide at all levels of Chinese governance. It was particularly involved in crackdowns surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai (Hnebp.edu.cn, November 6, 2008; Xzqs.gov.cn, June 23, 2010). Today, based on extrapolating from district-level numbers on local government websites, we estimate it retains at least 15,000 officers.

Functions of the 610 Office

The 610 Office has two main functions: coordinating personnel at state institutions to assist in fulfilling the office's mandate and directly conducting operations against Falun Gong and other forbidden spiritual groups. The first coordination role can involve pressuring staff from state bodies to act according to the 610 Office’s wishes, even when these run counter to their legal authority. Several lawyers who have defended Falun Gong practitioners report 610 Office personnel subverting the ability of judges and prison wardens to carry out their duties as outlined by Chinese law. Attorney Jiang Tianyong says compromised judges decide Falun Gong cases without recourse to Chinese legal standards but, instead, based on extrajudicial intervention from the 610 Office (Radio Free Asia, April 13, 2010). Meanwhile, Gao Zhisheng, Guo Guoting, and Wang Yajun have reported 610 Office interference in their efforts to meet with clients held in labor camps, prisons and detention centers (“Lawyer Barred from Representing Client by “6-10” Agents,” Human Rights in China, September 10. 2010).

Second, the 610 Office also has an immediate role in executing the leading group's policies. In the process, the 610 Office appears largely exempt from even the basics of China's judicial and legal reforms, often employing methods that are technically illegal under Chinese law. Various credible sources describe 610 Office agents directly participating in extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual assault, and illegal confiscation of property. For example, the 2009 report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings cited 610 Office involvement in pre-Olympic cases of Falun Gong deaths in custody [6]. Other Chinese dissidents and activists have detailed extra-legal detentions and torture on a scale and severity that appear to go beyond commonly-cited abuses in the law enforcement system. [7].


Conclusion

The 610 Office’s operations long ago expanded beyond its core task of wiping out Falun Gong. Testifying before the European Parliament, Hao Fengjun said that in April 2003 Party leaders ordered the 610 Office to dispose of 28 other “heretical organizations” and “harmful qigong organizations” [9]. The broadened functions remain in effect today as local government websites detail 610 Office investigations of other spiritual groups (See, for example, Hlong.gov.cn, May 2009).

The expanded mandate points to the entrenchment of the 610 Office in the CCP apparatus. What began as a temporary leading small group and task force has become a permanent fixture. It also highlights how 610 Office’s existence undermines rule of law—whatever official state policy towards religion might be, this entity operates at the direction of a small group of CCP leaders with no official standing.

Such conclusions take on even greater significance at a time when the 610 Office may be serving as a model for new CCP initiatives. Since 2008, official reports, speeches and circulars have referenced a novel set of CCP “leading groups” maintaining stability. Reportedly, branches of the Office of Maintaining Stability “are being set up in every district and major street” in rich coastal cities. They are charged with “ferreting out ‘anti-CCP elements’" (Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2009).

Multiple official sources indicate that these new entities and the 610 Office are working closely together. In at least one district in Guangdong’s Foshan City, for example, the 610 Office and the “leading group office for maintaining stability” were listed side-by-side in an online description of the local PLC’s internal functioning and staff (Chongchuan.gov.cn, June 7, 2010). In some localities, staff and even the leadership of the two entities seem to overlap. A March 2010 notice from Zhejiang’s Pingyang County government states that the same person was appointed to direct both 610 Office and the local stability maintenance office.

The rise of the 610 Office and stability maintenance offices suggests a sense among CCP leaders that existing internal security services, like the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security, are not satisfactorily effective. That these officials are increasingly relying on more arbitrary, extra-legal, and personalized security forces to protect their hold on power does not only bode badly for China’s human rights record. It also threatens the stability of internal CCP politics should 610 Office work become politicized—just as counterespionage was corrupted prior to Reform and Opening—amid the jockeying for power ahead of and beyond the upcoming 18th Party Congress.

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