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China Corruption Drive Continues, But Graft Persists


FILE - Copies of a booklet from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the ruling Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog, at a news conference in Beijing, January 15, 2016.

An expansive anti-corruption drive led by China’s President Xi Jinping has seen more than 1.5 million officials investigated and the toppling of several high-ranking leaders as well. But despite the mind-boggling figures, corruption remains, as Xi puts it, "the biggest threat to the party."

While authorities state that the drive has already reached "overwhelming momentum," a pace that will continue in 2018, some analysts say it still hasn’t gone far enough.

Ren Jianming, one of China’s leading experts on corruption, said the general observation is that the fight has intensified since Xi Jinping rose to power after the 18th Communist Party Congress.

But, he says the 1.5 million officials investigated is just a fraction of the total number of officials who are corrupt. Communist Party membership is about 89 million.

"If there are a rather large amount of them continuing to be corrupt, then that means we need to think over why anti-corruption after the 18th Party Congress is still not intimidating and threatening enough," said Ren, who is a professor at Beihang University’s school of Public Policy and Management.

And that raises questions, he adds, "about what changes should be made? Why is the problem like this? And should we reconsider our anti-corruption tactics?"

Zhang Yang, left, a Chinese military official who committed suicide while under investigation for corruption, at the China's National People's Congress, March 8, 2017.
Zhang Yang, left, a Chinese military official who committed suicide while under investigation for corruption, at the China's National People's Congress, March 8, 2017.

New appointees

Of the 18 ranking officials investigated in 2017 – with all investigations supervised by the party’s central leadership -- most were in their current post for less than two years. In one case, Yu Haiyan was investigated just two months after receiving a new appointment as vice governor of Gansu.

All of the high-ranking officials investigated in 2016, except for one, were appointed during Xi’s first term in office.

Analysts say the short times between appointment and investigation raises questions about the selection of officials and pervasiveness of corruption.

Some analysts argue the situation also highlights the fact that Xi does not have enough competent officials to fill important posts.

Hu Xingdou, an economist and commentator, said that what China needs is a modern anti-corruption system.

"You need to carry out checks and balances, publication of officials’ assets and the use of public finances’ transparency," Hu said. He recommended that budgets and expenditures be decided through China’s national and local people’s congresses, and that news media should be encouraged to oversee officials’ actions.

FILE - A man takes a selfie near a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping at an exhibition on the Long March at the military museum in Beijing, Oct. 24, 2016.
FILE - A man takes a selfie near a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping at an exhibition on the Long March at the military museum in Beijing, Oct. 24, 2016.

Party control

Currently, all corruption cases are first investigated by the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. So far, President Xi has rejected calls for a greater separation of powers and instead has highlighted the leading role the party should play in the fight.

The anticipated establishment of a National Supervision Commission next year is expected to add to the party’s leadership in the anti-corruption battle. The commission, which aims to link up law enforcement with the party’s anti-graft efforts, will oversee all public servants.

The new commission is expected to be responsible for administrative supervision, corruption prevention and crime prevention.

"In the future, the investigations of officials, especially after the establishment of the National Supervision Commission may get stronger," Hu said. And that, he adds, could make China’s officialdom cleaner and more honest.

New system needed?

But even as efforts to crack down are increased, analysts note that what also is needed is a fundamental reform of the official selection and promotion system.

Currently, the system relies heavily on people’s opinions, but as Ren Jianming notes more reliance on competitive guidelines could be used instead to make it easier to find and spot problem officials.

"If you largely rely on the personal understanding and judgment of top leadership, I personally believe it will probably be hard to solve the problems with the promotion of officials at a fundamental level," Ren said.

He said China could learn from Hong Kong’s use of amnesty for minor corruption offenses. The move was key in helping Hong Kong transform itself from being one of the most corrupt cities in the world to one of the cleanest.

"We could borrow some past experience, including Hong Kong’s use of amnesty… which might let us resolve a great number of corrupt officials on a large scale," Ren said.

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