News / Asia

China Bolsters Corruption Crackdown

New Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping waves in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Nov. 15, 2012.
New Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping waves in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Nov. 15, 2012.
When Xi Jinping visited the southern city of Shenzhen last week, his first regional inspection since he was appointed as Communist Party's chief, Chinese media highlighted Xi's explicit orders not to lay down red carpets or prepare lavish banquets.

Analysts say this low-key approach is just part of an intensifying effort by China’s new leaders to crack down on one of the biggest sources of public discontent, official corruption. But how far Chinese officials are willing to go remains unclear.

“The question is what do we find behind those words, are they really trying to change or reform something or are they using these buzzwords to legitimize the status quo and to justify the use anti-corruption as a means to solve political conflicts in a non-violent, more or less civilized way,” Flora Sapio, is a professor of Chinese law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Anti-corruption declarations

China’s leaders have long talked about an urgent need to address corruption.

Xi Jinping, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have all talked about the threat corruption poses to the Communist Party and the state.

In 2007, Hu even likened corruption to “a time bomb buried under society.”

But perhaps the strongest remark came in the late 90s, when then premier Zhu Rongji remarked in comments about corruption: “I’ll have 100 coffins prepared. Ninety-nine are for corrupt officials and the last one is for myself.”

Despite these many pronouncements, corruption remains rampant.

According a 2007 study by Minxin Pei, director of the China Program at Washington D.C.’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10 percent of government spending in China is used for kickbacks and bribes, while less than three percent of corrupt officials end up being punished.

Tide changing, cyber sleuths

In recent weeks, however, news reports have detailed the launch of investigations and dismissal of a growing number of officials. In many cases, the details of their alleged illicit activities and abuses were first leaked through social media sites online.

Some believe this cycle of exposing official corruption on social media - which pressures officials to investigate and has led in some cases to dismissals - is a sign of progress.

Others warn of the dangers of citizens making public information that belongs in a court of law.

Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, says that the use of microblog sites such as China’s Twitter-like Weibo is more a reflection of a systematic lack of transparency in China.

“While the use of Weibo, the Internet and mistresses is the Chinese way of fighting corruption, it’s not a comprehensive approach,” Hu says. “The key is creating a more modern system of fighting corruption.”

Party monitors itself

In China, the power to investigate party officials is in the hands of a Communist party body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which exists at each level of government and has branches inside large state companies, as well.

When abuse of power is reported, the commission needs to get clearance from a senior party body before it can investigate the cadres' alleged wrongdoing.

“You have a party anti-corruption body that is monitoring, supervising, investigating and to a certain extent also punishing, and handling cases of corruption. So monitoring and supervision are strongly biased in favor of interior mechanism which are by definition not transparent,” Sapio says.

Emboldened by the leadership's recent calls to end corruption, many scholars in China are now making suggestions about how the system could be improved and other reforms that might strengthen supervision.

Sunshine law

One reform on the table is the establishment of a "sunshine law" that would require officials to disclose their assets.

Sapio says that a sunshine policy might help uncover minor forms of corruption, but notes that a number of factors might make it difficult to carry out.

“What happens if it is found out that you possess property in excess of your legitimate income? Would you automatically be criminally investigated? Would you be investigated by party bodies? Depending on the answer each of these questions will receive in the future an asset disclosure may help place a check on corruption, or alternatively it might just enable party bodies to have more information on party members,” she says.

On Sunday, just as Xi Jinping was touring Shenzhen, the southern province of Guangdong revealed plans to make officials' assets publicly available in three counties.

Hu Xingdou says it is still unclear how this will work. “In the past that has only meant that information would be disclosed internally. It does not mean that they will allow that information about assets to be made public in newspapers or on the Internet for people to see,” Hu says.

Since 2010, low-level officials have been required to disclose their assets to their superiors, but such reports are not released to the public.

An independent body

Ren Jianming, director of the anti-corruption and governance research center at Beijing's Tsinghua University, is one of the eight scholars who recently met with Wang Qishan, the newly appointed head of China’s anti-graft commission.

Ren says that during the meeting some specialists suggested improvement to the asset-disclosure system, but he added that those measures are not enough.

“We have to go more in depth and look at why the policies we had in place in the past did not stop corruption,” he says.

In Ren's view, past failures stemmed from a lack of independence in the commission's work.

“For an organ to be functioning it needs to be independent and it needs to have complete authority over its work and its finances, that is how it can have a beneficial effect into the body's monitoring system,” Ren says.

Looking to neighbors

Analysts say China is looking at its neighbors, including Singapore and Hong Kong, to shape a more effective anti-corruption system at home.

In Hong Kong's case, the government established a special commission in the 1970s, when the city-state was plagued by widespread corruption. The organ was given substantial funds and complete independence to carry out its investigations, which catapulted Hong Kong into the ranks of the world's cleanest governments.

But in China, where the Communist party exerts such broad control - of police, the courts and the government itself - empowering an independent body to monitor state officials is likely to be seen as threat to the party’s existence.

Some in China say that, although they trust the new leadership’s determination to push for change, making that happen may depend on more than strong-willed individuals.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
December 14, 2012 10:32 AM
Corruption has plagued the CCP ever since it took power in 1949. Corruption helped bring down the Qing Dynasty & the ROC. Corruption will probably play a big part when the CCP falls. The problem is not just individuals, the system of one-party authoritarian rule. As long as the system exists, corruption will be endemic. Corruption costs China 10% of its GDP. Billions have been embezzled, stolen & misused by corrupt officials. It's time for a sea change in China.

by: Frank from: N.Y.
December 14, 2012 3:56 AM
"Wen Jiabao have accumulated more than $2.7 billion during his tenure as premier" (VOA). Chinese (Mainland) leaders must purify themselves before condemning their officials' corruption, otherwise they are just all hat and no cattle.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs