20 January 2019
Anti-graft chief Wang Qishan said about 336,000 violators of party discipline were punished last year. Photo: AFP
Anti-graft chief Wang Qishan said about 336,000 violators of party discipline were punished last year. Photo: AFP

China at corruption crossroads

For a country that likes to be top of its class, getting placed in the middle of the pack—even on a list that names the world’s most corrupt countries—must be a bummer.

China was ranked 83rd in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last week, the result of an annual poll which this year ranks 168 countries and territories in order of cleanest to most corrupt.

What’s an established authoritarian regime—one notoriously known for wanton corruption, yet in the midst of an unprecedented anti-corruption dragnet—to do?

Do you denounce the CPI as a Western political tool used to attack a rising China?

Do you strongly condemn Transparency International as an American puppet?

After all, by most disreputable measures, China is already a perennial top 10er where it counts.

China, for example, currently ranks first in the world for number of executions, first in number of journalists jailed and second in total prison population, according to Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the World Prison Brief, respectively.

The country is also ranked sixth for suppression of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, and is CPJ’s eighth most censored country.

(That North Korea has retained the most corrupt country crown for the fifth consecutive year, however dubious that honor might be, should not influence any decision.)

Or, do you take the high road and do everything you can to be as squeaky clean as No. 1 ranked Denmark?

Do you launch an all-new, no-holds-barred corruption crackdown that doesn’t smack of a selective, politically motivated purge?

Do you put your “suspicion of serious violations of party discipline” investigations on overdrive?

Do you vanquish abuse of power, “disappear” it in the vernacular, so even a red fire monkey can’t find it?

There’s a lot to be said on the merits of striving for legitimacy (not the self-proclaimed kind), recognition as benevolent superpower and whatnot that score big points towards building positive world opinion (not the investment-driven kind).

It’s not like China isn’t trying.

More than 54,000 Chinese officials were investigated by prosecutors for bribery, dereliction of duty and other duty-related crimes in 2015, according to Xinhuanet.

Citing a work report made by anti-graft chief Wang Qishan published on Jan. 24, Xinhuanet also said there were 20,000 anti-graft cases concluded last year, around 16,000 for bribery and embezzlement and 4,300 for dereliction of duty.

All told, the Communist Party of China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) punished about 336,000 discipline violators in 2015.

Not bad.

But if Harvard professor and China scholar of elite Communist Party politics Roderick MacFarquhar is correct, 40 million people—at minimum—should be prosecuted.

That’s using a low-ball 10 percent corruption rate and the Wen Jiabao “family-that-is-corrupt-together-stays-together” model—8 million Party cadres, each plus a spouse, a child, a sibling and the sibling’s spouse.

Wang the anti-graft chief said the CDDI received more than 2.8 million tips last year—via hotline, letter, email or through the inspectorate website.

That’s impressive, but when there’s an almost certain pool of at least 40 million government miscreants, China has to do better.

“We ordinary Chinese feel such joy seeing these corrupt officials get their comeuppance,” said Yang Tianrong, 75, a retired soldier who lives in Beidaihe, according to the New York Times.

The seaside resort east of Beijing is home to a municipal water official who made national headlines last year after the authorities said they found a one-ton mound of moldy cash worth US$20 million in his basement.

The CDDI’s new official WeChat account might help: it features a handy one-click channel to report officials up to no good.

Launched on Jan. 1, it’s just in time for the New Year until Spring Festival season when lavish entertaining and gifting with public money historically runs rampant.

Xinhuanet separately reported that the CDDI asked the public to keep their eyes peeled during the holiday period for officials who dine out on the public purse, fund private trips with government money or make unofficial use of official vehicles.

Whistleblowers should also be aware that public money cannot be used to purchase holiday gifts, shopping cards and fireworks.

Officials, moreover, are banned from sending or receiving electronic “hongbao” (lucky money), not allowed to accept gifts from fellow army veterans or alumni and are forbidden to enter private clubs.

Overall, two-thirds of the 168 countries on the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index scored below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean).

China scored 37, alongside countries like Benin (a West African nation known as the birthplace of voodoo), Colombia, Liberia and Sri Lanka.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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