Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Step Two: strengthen rule of law

The anti-corruption campaign in China is more than a power struggle.

The devil, or Mr Wang
Wang Qishan
FEAR is Wang Qishan’s favoured weapon. As leader of the Communist Party’s most sustained and wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign in its history, he often urges his investigators to be “frightening”. One story goes that at a meeting of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), convened after Mr Wang took charge of it in November 2012, senior members—themselves among the most feared officials in the party—were presented with dossiers of their own sins. Mr Wang’s aim, it appeared, was to terrorise the enforcers themselves…

Now few dare to complain. At the age of 66, Mr Wang is the sixth-ranking member of the Politburo but is clearly second only to President Xi Jinping in the power he wields. He is perhaps the most feared…

Fear has spread throughout the bureaucracy and the management of state-owned enterprises. Mr Wang’s army of hundreds of thousands of party investigators, who have licence to detain and interrogate suspects without legal restraints, have taken down senior officials in redoubts such as the domestic security apparatus and the People’s Liberation Army, powerful state-owned enterprises and state regulators.

More than one-third of provinces have lost at least one member of their senior party leadership to corruption inquiries. The coal-mining province of Shanxi has lost the majority of its 13-member party leadership…

Normal bureaucratic life has been widely disrupted… Provinces and ministries gutted by the CCDI squads are in desperate need of personnel. On March 6th the party chief of Shanxi said his province still needed to fill nearly 300 vacancies left by graft investigations there…

Mr Wang and Mr Xi may deem such disruption to be an acceptable risk. From almost his first day in power Mr Xi has declared the party to be riddled with corruption; life-threateningly so, indeed. Predecessors have used similarly strong language, but Mr Xi appears to be taking the problem far more seriously…

Mr Xi, Mr Wang and others on the Politburo Standing Committee have paid visits to members of the so-called “red nobility”, as relatives of former leaders are often described, to secure their co-operation. (Mr Xi and Mr Wang are princelings themselves.) Families belonging to the party aristocracy have so far escaped the worst of the anti-corruption campaign, but they have been told to turn over illegal assets to the state and rein in extravagant spending. Those so instructed have included Mr Xi’s own relatives…

Mr Wang is due to retire in 2017, but he is trying to beef up the CCDI to enable it keep on catching “tigers”, as senior targets are known. He has hired detectives from other agencies and forensic accountants from state-owned firms…

Independent activists who dare to speak out about party corruption, however, are being suppressed as ruthlessly as the corrupt themselves…

Mr Wang has spoken of dealing with corruption in three stages. The first involves instilling fear, but the second would require strengthening rule of law to make it harder to be corrupt in the first place. The final stage would be to change China’s political culture so that officials would not even think of taking backhanders. For now, however, there is nothing but fear itself.

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