GUANGZHOU - The crackdown on the underground sex trade has expanded from Dongguan, in the heart of the Pearl River Delta, to all of Guangdong province, with local authorities vowing to severely punish those who protect the illegal services.
In addition to the closure on Sunday of dozens of entertainment venues involved in prostitution in Dongguan, a number of similar venues and some rented houses in the provincial capital of Guangzhou and other cities have been raided because of suspicion they hosted sex trade services and other illegal activities, Guangdong police sources said.
Following media outlets' recent reports of rampant prostitution in massage parlours and hotels in Dongguan, provincial police have announced a three-month crackdown on sex businesses across the province.
In a separate raid in Guangzhou on Tuesday night, police arrested 98 people suspected of involvement in illegal activities including the sex trade and gambling, and more than 20 entertainment venues were closed.
In Huizhou, which neighbours Dongguan, police raided nearly 600 entertainment venues and arrested 10 people on suspicion of involvement in the sex trade.
Li Chunsheng, vice-governor of Guangdong and director of the Guangdong Public Security Department, said government officials and police officers who provide a "protection umbrella" for the prostitution business will be severely punished.
According to Li, the provincial department will send working groups to all cities for undercover investigations, and police from other cities will be deployed to make arrests if local police fail to fulfil their responsibilities.
Sources with the Dongguan discipline inspection commission vowed on Wednesday to also remove and severely punish any officials and police officers who are found to be involved in the sex trade.
Following China Central Television's report on the rampant illegal sex trade in Dongguan, Hu Chunhua, Party chief of Guangdong, called for a tough crackdown on underground prostitution in the city.
"We should fight against prostitution in the same way we fought against the drug trade last year," Hu said.
Police said those who advertise prostitution services online, through text messages or via Internet chat software will also be severely punished.
Meanwhile, police in Guangdong have vowed to work closely with their counterparts in Hong Kong and Macao to fight against the sex trade, as some criminal organisations from the two neighbouring special administrative regions have been found to be involved in the entertainment industry in the province.
Sources with the Guangdong police said that criminal organisations from Hong Kong and Macao have invested in some hotels, especially those based in Dongguan, to operate illegal sex, drug and gambling businesses.
Previous cases showed that gangs from Hong Kong and Macao operated such illegal activities after entering Guangdong under guises including investing, visiting relatives and tourism, according to Guangdong police.
Some hotels in Guangdong have been used as hideouts for gang members from the two regions and a way to launder money, according to the Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao.
Feng Shengping, chief researcher of the Guangdong Provincial Situation Research Center, said the crackdown on prostitution in Guangdong reflects the local government's determination to clean up the investment and business environment by fighting corruption as some local police officers and even government officials "may have developed relationships with organizers of the sex trade".
"Dongguan has been a hotbed for such illegal activities for years. The crackdown should target those who protected the illegal sex trade," Feng said.
The crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan is not new. During the last few years, local police have raided some hotels and clubs involved in providing sex services and other illegal activities.
In 2010, Dongguan police paraded several sex workers on the street after a citywide crackdown on prostitution.
Although the action was criticised by the public and by the Ministry of Public Security, pictures of undressed female suspects handcuffed in hotel rooms were later released.
"Authorities in Dongguan should spare no efforts to clean up the business and investment environment by putting up a tough fight against the illegal sex trade. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the city to upgrade its traditional manufacturing industries," Feng said.