An anti-corruption drive in China has netted suspects that include an executive accused of cavorting with gigolos, a young woman who owns 11 apartments, a provincial official with 47 mistresses and a vice mayor with ties to a drug gang. Many alleged misdeeds were exposed by Internet users — mostly whistleblowers and rogue journalists — and promulgated via unusually freewheeling coverage in state-owned media.
Another, less vaunted government clampdown — this one on dissenting views — leaves little hope for a Chinese people-power renaissance. Over the past week authorities have surreptitiously replaced an outspoken editorial in a liberal newspaper with brazen propaganda, scrubbed an open letter calling for constitutional governance from the Internet and closed down an outspoken Beijing-based magazine for advocating political reform.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary and Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) said corruption could lead to the “end of the party.” His administration has ruthlessly singled out venal officials and is implementing a series of regulations to limit displays of official waste. Yet analysts say that Xi’s anti-graft drive is only skin-deep, and that party leaders will be hard-pressed to eradicate corruption while maintaining their perennially hard line on dissent.
“For a short period of time, you can have draconian measures that can deter corruption, but in the long term the best way to deal with it is to make sure that there are checks and balances,” said Steve Tsang, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, England.
Yet there are many reasons why a culture of corruption will persist — officials are low-paid and poorly supervised, and the lack of a free press and independent judiciary eliminates any prospect of well-measured oversight.
“What we are likely to see, following Xi Jinping’s commitment to his new policy, is that government officials will be a lot more careful in not displaying their ill-gotten gains,” Tsang said. “They will do enough to reassure Xi that things are under control, and that is as far as they will go.”
Since Xi became the top CCP leader in November last year, the central leadership has made an all-out drive to appear transparent and down to earth. Xi has banned a number of wasteful government practices, including prolonged speechifying and traffic-disrupting motorcades. A ban on expensive liquor at military banquets caused some prestigious brands’ stock prices to plummet. Xinhua news agency has published extensive profiles of the country’s seven most powerful leaders, a well-meaning stab at transparency, although they offer little more than breathless praise.
However, the recent explosion of corruption allegations on China’s popular micro-blogs has done more to reveal the depth of the problem than validate official efforts to eliminate it. A blog post on Dec. 30 accused the party secretary of an impoverished county in Yunnan Province of purchasing 10 SUVs and getting drunk with a group of attractive women.
The vice mayor of a small city in Guangdong Province lost his job after a subordinate exposed his connection to a local drug ring. Blog posts accuse the deputy chief of the province’s Land Resource Bureau of having affairs with 47 mistresses and receiving almost ￡2.8 billion (US$4.55 billion) in bribes.