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Why China’s Corruption Fight May Finally Be For Real
Summary:Since last month’s 18th Party Congress, cascades of officials have been put under investigation for corruption. In the past, anti-corruption cases were chosen strategically to serve as weapons in inter-factional fights or to preserve the Party’s image. This time however, the public is getting involved and the government is tacitly encouraging it.

Why The Fight Against Corruption In China May Finally Be For Real

Shanghai by night - (HeyltsWilliam)

By Chen Jieren  (
December 9, 2012

Translated by Laura Lin
Original article: [Chinese]

Since the end of last month's 18th National Congress, the country seems to have witnessed a nationwide wave of corruption investigations against the rich and powerful. First several high-ranking officials from Guangzhou were dismissed from their posts. Then it was Li Chungcheng, the deputy party secretary of Sichuan Province that had just been elected as an alternate member of Party's Central Committee, who was put under investigation. Two other cases soon followed. 

This succession of cases has dazzled the public, astonished officialdom and aroused attention from abroad. Public opinion generally sees this as an indication that the spirit of the 18th Congress is taking hold. Individual authorities are following up on the instructions and requirements for anti-corruption work laid down by Xi Jinping, the newly elected general secretary of the Communist Party.

While Chinese officials have themselves set off an upsurge of anti-corruption actions, the Chinese public has also started discussing calls to set up a system for curbing corruption. They are listening in particular to the advice of several influential intellectuals who are calling for the establishment of a fixed system for preventing corruption.

I am confident that the public demands, after years of being ignored, will now finally enter the “discernment” of the decision makers in Beijing. Why the change in attitude? And what actions will be taken?

In the past, many of China’s anti-corruption actions were only vigorous in appearance. Rather than actually aiming to curb corruption, they were the tools of political struggles and attacks between officialdom’s internal cliques. Such anti-corruption convinces neither the corrupt officials nor the people.

An even more important point is that anti-corruption, which begins as a purely legal issue, is always bound to wind up as a political one. Whether or not to arrest a corrupt official, when to arrest him, exactly who is to be arrested and who is not, as well as whether the case is to be publicized; these all become important factors for political consideration.

What decision makers are most worried about is that too much exposure of corrupt officials may affect their image and shake the pattern of some sort of balance in the party.

There are in fact two very sensitive features in this wave of anti-corruption. First, the Party's Central Committee had only just elected its members when one of them was immediately put under investigation, which was unimaginable before. Within their conformist thinking, the party cadres would have seen it as scandalous to risk damaging the party’s image.

Second, the Shanxi deputy-director was removed from his office just because his son was guilty of drunk driving and had made trouble. The police have always been one of the most important tools for safeguarding the Party's rule. Normally, policy makers are particularly tolerant towards them; especially when it concerns high-ranking police officers. But this time that unwritten pact was broken.

In addition, the Chinese government has begun to show some positive interaction between authority and public opinion. Take the exposure of Lei Zhengfu’s sex video as an example. The Communist Party has demonstrated trust, tolerance and even dependence on public opinion. Were it to have happened in the past, the usual practice would have been to first block the expression of public opinion, and then try to refute the rumors. 

Not only has the government tolerated the internet buzz and listened to the people, but also has responded in a timely fashion with an investigation. Several websites that had been banned have now been quietly restored. 

Obviously, this round of anti-corruption action has won praise for China’s new leaders. At the beginning of the new phase of leadership, it was important to mobilize the propaganda machine and present a good image. Corruption that discredits the Party is not to be tolerated. Leaders have realized that not only will exposing their colleagues' ugliness not damage their own image, but it also gives people an honest and pragmatic impression of the Party.

Chinese leaders have realized that, although anti-corruption work is closely related to politics, it’s a matter of rules rather than political skill. If the anti-corruption work follows the political thinking of the past, not only will the sacked officials and the public be unconvinced, but those who remain in their positions will be left snickering. Only when the rule of law is the only anti-corruption benchmark will fair results and convincing social effects be achieved.

In practice the attack on corruption needs to follow only two principles: the facts and the system. Various oversight mechanisms should be fully mobilized - in particular public opinion and public supervision. Only if the door to fight corruption is kept truly open can the hidden corrupt be exposed, which becomes a standing deterrent for others.

News in English via World Crunch (link)


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