Selective anticorruption in China

By Chen Pokong 陳破空  / 

Tue, Jan 28, 2014 - Page 8

Several days ago, the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a report revealing that relatives of at least five current or former members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee have used companies registered in the offshore tax haven of the British Virgin Islands to secretly stash huge sums of money.

These relatives include Deng Jiagui (鄧家貴), brother-in-law of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平); Wen Yunsong (溫雲松) and Liu Chunhang (劉春航), son and son-in-law of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶); Hu Yishi (胡翼時), first cousin once removed of former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤); Li Xiaolin (李小琳), daughter of former Chinese premier Li Peng (李鵬); and Wu Jianchang (吳建常), son-in-law of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平).

This report has sent shock waves through the Chinese-speaking world, not least because of the irony that Xi is currently engaged — to much fanfare — in an anticorruption drive, vowing to go after big game and small fry — or as he put it, “tigers and flies” — alike. Wen Jiabao, for his part, made a statement in the Hong Kong media, protesting his own innocence and categorically denying any involvement, saying: “I have never, and absolutely would not, exploit my position to seek personal gain.”

At the same time, New Citizens’ Movement founder Xu Zhiyong (許志永) has been sentenced to four years in prison in the country’s capital. Xu and his defense lawyer are protesting the court’s violations of due process. The main reason that Xu has angered the authorities is that he wants to see officials declare their financial affairs. Xu has asked how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can crack down on corruption if party officials themselves are unwilling to declare their own personal finances.

Other Chinese citizens, such as Liu Ping (劉萍), Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) and Li Sihua (李思華), who have made similar demands about officials and their finances, have already felt the weight of the authorities’ disapproval.

Given the situation, people are questioning whether Xi’s anticorruption drive is sincere. Over the course of the past year, 31 senior officials on either the national or local level have been forced from their positions in what seems to be an unprecedented campaign against corruption in high places. However, eyebrows are being raised about what is being done about corruption in Xi’s backyard. Is he willing to put justice above his family, or the families of senior colleagues? Will he apply the same justice to them as to everyone else? Apparently not.

By clamping down on citizens who have demanded that officials declare their finances, the authorities are implicitly saying that if corruption is to be tackled, they will be the ones to do it and civil society should keep out of it.

“We will fight against corruption selectively and investigate who we please,” they are saying.

Dispatching party secretaries around the country is no different from how the imperial commissioner was sent on inspection tours in the old days of the empire. This system of rule by an individual not only shows how the new crop of rulers are continuing their predecessors’ rejection of the rule of law, it also demonstrates how the Communist regime is just a modern take on traditional feudal monarchy in which the ancestors’ way of doing things was sacrosanct.

On the surface, there appears to have been a certain amount of picking and choosing going on in reports over the past two years by the foreign press or independent overseas organizations of scandals involving high-level members of the regime.

For example, nothing has been heard from former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), despite the common knowledge that, through two of his sons, the Jiang clan at the very least controls a significant amount of China Telecom.

Jiang’s exhortation during his term to herald the advantages of discretion — his “being quiet gets huge benefits” — was a catalyst for corruption within the party. Other senior members of the Jiang faction have been involved in scandals too, such as Wu Bangguo (吳邦國), Jia Qinglin (賈慶林), Li Changchun (李長春) and Zhou Yongkang (周永康) — the “New Gang of Four” — or the “all-new Gang of Four” of Zhang Dejiang (張德江), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲), Liu Yunshan (劉雲山) and Zhang Gaoli (張高麗).

Of these, Jia is widely believed to be corrupt, being heavily tainted by his association with Lai Changxing (賴昌星) and the latter’s multibillion dollar smuggling ring; Liu’s son Liu Lefei (劉樂飛) entered the billionaires’ club landing himself the job of chief executive officer for CITIC Private Equity Funds Management; and Zhou, as a former Chinese minister of Public Security, minister of Land and Resources, Sichuan Province party secretary and chief of China National Petroleum Corp, the parent company of PetroChina, is a sizeable tiger to bag indeed.

Clearly, it is not the foreign media or the overseas independent organizations that are being intentionally selective over who they write reports about. It is more likely that certain figures within the higher echelons of the CCP are being selective in what information they leak — information that will lead overseas journalists and investigators to the doorstep of the political rivals within the party and that will implicate these rivals in corruption. Naturally, the foreign media and overseas organizations will never reveal the sources of the leaks, as this is a basic professional code of conduct.

History has shown that the various factions within the CCP have favored this kind of “dawn raid” tactic when attacking their political foes. This selective anticorruption drive has fallen foul of party members taking advantage of selective leaks to get back at those who have gotten on their wrong side in the past. It is escalating brinkmanship, a game of chicken, a matter of seeing who will back down first. This all suggests that struggles within the halls of power in Beijing are becoming increasingly deadly leading to a classic dog-eat-dog situation. It seems that the endgame has begun and all that remains is to see who emerges victorious.

Chen Pokong is a Chinese democracy activist in the US.

Translated by Paul Cooper