24 May 2019
As Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on power, public oversight of the Party has been largely suppressed. Photo: Reuters
As Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on power, public oversight of the Party has been largely suppressed. Photo: Reuters

Key to eliminating corruption is a good system, not a strongman

As the Communist Party of China (CPC) held the 6th plenary session of its 18th Central Committee recently, state television aired “Forever on the path”, a documentary produced by the Central Commission For Discipline Inspection (中央紀律檢查委員會), the party’s top anti-graft body.

In the 8-part series, some 80 former high-ranking party officials who had been convicted of corruption charges confessed on national TV to having breached the trust of the party and the people.

Often in tears, the former officials were shown begging for public forgiveness. Many of the officials, ironically, were at the forefront of the national anti-corruption campaign when they were in power.

After taking the top job in 2012, President Xi Jinping unleashed a crackdown on corrupt party officials on an unprecedented scale. So far a whopping 1.01 million corrupt officials across the country have been tried and convicted on graft charges. Among them, some 170 were provincial chiefs, top army generals and even members of the Politburo.

The results might appear impressive, but here lies the problem: Xi’s war on corruption has largely been fought and won with his absolute authority and strongmanship, rather than through a well-established system of law.

This calls into question whether authorities can truly root out corruption within the party in the long run.

As a matter of fact, recent developments in the mainland seem to be working against the ongoing anti-graft efforts. As President Xi is tightening his grip on every aspect of society and establishing a sort of dictatorship, we can say that rule of law and an independent judiciary are still very much beyond reach for China.

Xi’s relentless crackdown on civil society and freedom of speech, as well as his heavy-handedness in bringing the media into line in the mainland, mean that public oversight of the party has been largely suppressed.

As we all know a well-defined asset declaration system has proven to be a powerful tool to fight government corruption worldwide.

Discussion on introducing such a mechanism to the CPC has been going on since 1987, but so far the party leadership is yet to reach a consensus on that, not least because of fierce opposition from the powerful and cash-flush vested interests within the party.

We should bear in mind that anti-corruption fight is a marathon, not a sprint, race.

In the long run, success can only be achieved through a full-fledged and firmly established legal system. A political strongman can at best only deliver a quick fix, not a long-term solution.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 28

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe