World News

Crime outlook "grim" in South China export hub

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Public security will be “grim” this year given the financial downturn, with rising crime rates expected and possible instability from laid-off migrant workers, a top Guangdong police official said on Tuesday.

Guangdong, which manufactures around a third of China’s exports, has in recent weeks seen the return of migrant workers, many of whom have struggled to find work given a slew of factory closures and an estimated 20 million lost jobs.

“Faced with the complicated changes in public security in society, especially given the impact of the international financial crisis, we expect the public security situation to be grim,” said He Guangping, the deputy head of the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department.

Economic crimes have risen -- including mobile phone scams, currency counterfeiters, and “black bosses” refusing to pay workers -- leading to the arrests of 5,200 people, and the recovery of more than 3 billion yuan (307.8 million pound) in ill-gotten gains last year, He said.

“All kinds of illegal and criminal activities will continue to increase ... The task of safeguarding social stability, law and order overall is still arduous,” He told reporters on the sidelines of Guangdong’s annual National People’s Congress session in the provincial capital Guangzhou.

A major focus for law enforcement would be ferreting out “black-hearted bosses” fleeing bankrupt businesses or factories without paying workers. About 500 such cases were officially lodged last year, He said.

Beijing’s stability-obsessed leaders have had a difficult task of balancing workers’ rights with the economic interests of factory owners in helping them survive the financial crisis.

Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the top economic planning agency, was quoted on Tuesday as saying that the agency estimated 20 million jobs were lost in Guangdong alone over the past year.

The government would seek to keep the nationwide unemployment rate at around 5 percent this year, Zhang said in an interview posted on the website of China Briefing magazine.

Reporting by James Pomfret, additional reporting by Jason Subler; Editing by Nick Macfie