19 January 2019
China's anti-graft campaign seeks a sharper definition of the relationship between the Communist Party and the people. Photo: AFP
China's anti-graft campaign seeks a sharper definition of the relationship between the Communist Party and the people. Photo: AFP

WEEKENDER: Party vows to beat risk of reform decadence

China’s Communist Party leaders have raised the stakes in the ongoing battle against corruption by vowing to prevent “decadence” in the deepening reform drive.

Analysts said the link between the anti-graft campaign and the task of deepening reform represents a new and important part of the party’s intensifying anti-corruption efforts this year. They said it is likely officials from the party’s anti-corruption watchdog will join reform task forces at all levels of government to help implement the reform policy.

After the formal appointment of President Xi Jinping {習近平} as head of a newly established committee in charge of promoting reform, the party ordered local governments to form their own committees to spearhead the relevant programs this year.

The new anti-corruption task aimed at boosting the reform drive emerged in a speech by Xi during a three-day central committee plenum of the party’s Central Commission on Discipline Inspection which ended in Beijing on Wednesday.

Xi called on senior officials to prevent decadence that might arise in the process of deepening reform.

A report by the semi-official China News Service said it was the first time the Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang leadership had floated the notion of “decadence risk”. Quoting unnamed analysts, the report said the leaders’ pledge to facilitate social justice and improve people’s livelihood through reform would be mere words if the reform exercise was disrupted by official decadence.

Professor Wang Yukai {汪玉凱 } of the National Academy of Governance said official decadence would emerge if the powers of certain departments or individuals are further expanded in the process of reform. If that happens, there will be new risk that official malpractice or abuse of power linked to benefits would flourish. Also, there will be new danger that governments would skirt the rules and regulations to gain improper benefits, Wang said.

Professor Wang underlined the importance of integrity in officials who drive economic reform as a prerequisite to preventing decadence in the reform effort, adding it is also important that reform be conducted in a scientific and fair manner.

Meanwhile, the relationship between government and markets must be clearly defined to prevent the former “crossing the line”.

Wang’s observation has shed further light on Xi’s relentless battle against corruption, launched immediately after he became party general secretary at the 18th national congress in November 2012. While helping ease public anger toward the ruling party, the anti-graft drive is equally important on another front, namely, economic reform.

The latest move by the ruling party to highlight the risk of corruption in economic reform is yet another sign the momentum will continue, perhaps with more vigor, in 2014. Citing previous “fireworks-type” anti-graft campaigns, cynics have expressed doubt about the duration of the ongoing exercise.

Xi said in his speech this week: “The high-handed, high-profile approach to the anti-corruption drive must continue. We must stick to our zero-tolerance attitude toward corruption. As soon as corrupt elements are identified, [we] must act immediately and resolutely.”

The figures speak for themselves. More than 31 ministerial-level officials have been held in various corruption investigations. A Jan. 9 report by the Central Commission on Discipline Inspection showed more than 180,000 cadres were penalized for corruption in 2013. Of them, 18 provincial-level officials have been sacked.

The high-profile crackdown included an investigation into malpractice by the so-called “oil gang” involving a handful of senior executives of a state-owned oil company closely associated with former politburo standing committee member Zhou Yongkang {周永康}. Zhou himself is widely believed to be under house arrest.

Since the end of 2013, anti-graft fighters have set their sights on officials in political work, security and legal organs. A security vice minister, Li Dongsheng {李東生}, faced a formal probe relating to corruption.

In a statement issued at the end of the plenum, the discipline watchdog outlined an anti-corruption roadmap for 2014 to implement major tasks set out in its 2013-2017 work plan. These include the establishment of an anti-corruption system, greater supervision of key officials and intensified efforts to track down overseas assets owned by corrupt officials.

The head of the anti-graft body, Wang Qishan {王歧山}, said last year that China would strengthen cooperation with international anti-corruption bodies to help bring to justice corrupt officials who have fled the country.

China is stepping up international cooperation to stop corrupt cadres from absconding with public money and, importantly, to convince skeptics it means what it says about running a clean government.

Chris Yeung is deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. This column appears every Friday.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


He was editor-at-large at the South China Morning Post and, more recently, deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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