The government would not use police forces as the first resort to dealing with possible social unrest in rural areas this year, a senior Chinese official said Monday.
"Police will not be called in unless there are extreme cases of violence, such as beating, looting and arson," Chen Xiwen, director of the office of the central leading group on rural work, told a press conference in Beijing.
His remarks came as the country faces new threats to social stability after about 20 million migrant workers returned to rural homes after losing their jobs as the global financial crisis takes a toll on the economy.
To maintain social stability is a daunting task for the government in "the hardest year for China's economic development since entering the new century", as Premier Wen Jiabao said in January.
Chen said it has always been a principle for the Chinese government to avoid involving police in social unrest when he made the comment.
The government's unchanged position, as stated by Chen, reiterated a statement from Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu,who takes charge of China's police forces.
Meng wrote in a November edition of Qiushi (seeking truth) Journal calling for continued exercise of caution in the use of police forces, police instruments and weapons and compulsory measures.
Chen said there had been cases of social unrest in some rural areas last year, but the number of such cases will not be available until early next month.
Some local governments had ignored and harmed farmers' interests in pursuit of economic growth. This, and corruption by officials, were factors behind those cases, he said.
Land requisition, environmental pollution in rural areas, relocation of farmers, and the handling of collectively owned assets are four major areas where seeds of rural social unrest are laid, he added.
Yet, "a large number of jobless migrant workers returning to rural homes ... is a new factor impacting this year's social stability," he said.
Chen said issues concerning land requisition and others need to be solved properly to prevent conflicts from escalating into unrest.
In addition, government officials are urged to come forward to reason with the public and properly explain things in cases of social unrest, instead of sending for the police, he said.