Thin hopes for a brighter 2009 were dashed early on by an article in the Xinhua-issued Outlook magazine. "Without doubt, now we’re entering a peak period for mass incidents," it predicted.
The urban unemployment rate hit 4.2% at the end of 2008 and the government believes it will reach 4.6% this year, a level not seen since 1980. Worryingly, these calculations don’t take into account China’s 220 million migrant workers.
Finance Minister Xie Xuren echoed Xinhua’s words in forecasting a "difficult year" for China’s finances at a fiscal affairs conference. At the same meeting, an official from the country’s state assets regulator said that profits for state-owned enterprises had fallen by 30% in 2008, to US$102.5 billion.
Faced with potential unrest, Beijing is doing what it can to keep matters under control. Local authorities are launching support initiatives to assist the unemployed, may of them returned migrant workers, on job training and other issues. There are even plans to set up a special police unit tasked with handling any unemployment-fueled rise in organized crime and gang-related violence.
Hoping that a stronger property market will bring a wider economic boost, four government agencies issued a statement calling for "reasonable" housing prices. Earlier, property taxes and downpayments were reduced to help homebuyers.
The government is also focusing inward. In January, President Hu Jintao urged party inspectors to monitor cadres for signs of corruption. These efforts will include registering the job details of local officials’ relatives; to date 185,940 party officials have registered. Attempts at maintaining discipline may be paying off. In Guangdong, six senior officials were sentenced for embezzlement, with some receiving jail terms of up to four years. The officicals had used public money on cruises and gambling, and some had received bribes.