(Tom is unable to post his piece at the moment. Yaxue substitutes.)
Xi Jinping created quite a stir with his recent trip to Guangdong province, which has been seen by many as a demonstration of his determination to continue with (economic) Reform and Opening up. On this trip he impressed many by proceeding in a much less flashy fashion than most expect from Chinese gov’t officials. While his recent promotion of waste-preventing guidelines and anti-corruption policies show a strong desire to limit these ills of the Party, there is little hope that these alone will make a difference.
Xi is right to focus on these issues early on in his leadership, as graft and abuse of power are widely seen as the biggest threats to the Party, but he fails to recognize that these are unavoidable consequences of the current political structure. As it stands in China, the flow of resources is still largely controlled by a massive bureaucratic system. This gives a large number of individuals power over very valuable, finite commodities; which provides them the opportunity to extract bribes and use their positions for their own personal benefit. Because these petty officials are only beholden to the Party, and not the people affected by their actions, there is little need for them to produce results that would help their communities (and the results they produce are generally in effort to further their own careers). Without massive reforms, corruption will continue to be major problem.
Furthermore, as we’ve seen time and again, China’s leaders are excellent at producing laws, edicts, speeches, and slogans; but are incapable of ensuring their enforcement. There is little reason to believe that Xi’s latest efforts will produce a different outcome than the dozens of similar speeches made during Hu Jintao’s time. The problem is that to date, anti-corruption efforts have relied heavily on gov’t investigators instead of public oversight. In reality, this is simply creating another opportunity for graft, as these investigators can use their power to extract bribes from other officials.
I believe that the current strategy of the Party is simply to present the appearance of a clean up. After all, if many people in China believe that the Communist Party of the 50’s and 60’s was incorruptible (even though officials feasted through Mao’s great famine), than it should be possible to convince them of this again while maintaining the “perks” of officialdom that produce the unquestioning loyalty that the Party requires of it servants.
Last week though an open letter to Xi Jinping outlined clear initiatives that could be taken if the Party was really serious about cleaning up corruption, instead of just giving the appearance of caring. Signed by 65 Chinese intellectuals, legal professionals, teachers, engineers, media professionals and people from other professions, the letter reads as follows:
“Corruption is a very serious social problem in China, as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping said on November 17, 2012, during a study session of the Political Bureau, “The problem of corruption is becoming increasingly severe, and could ultimately bring down the Party and the country.” On November 19, 2012, the head of the CPC Commission for Discipline Inspection, Wang Qishan, gave a speech in the meeting of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision also stressing the importance of “steadfast opposition to corruption”.
But over the years, the anti-corruption slogans, campaign-style anti-corruption efforts have not been able to solve the increasingly serious problem of corruption. On July 11, 2010, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the CPC Central Organization Department, the Ministry of Supervision jointly issued “Rules Regarding Cadres Reporting Personal Matters” that stipulate that cadres at and above the division level (处级, lower-middle level officials) must report personal income, real estate holdings, and investments of his/her own, as well as that of the spouse and children living with them.” But the information has not been made public, and did not work toward eradicating corruption.
The fundamental way to solve the problem of corruption is transparency. In 1766, in order to limit the power of the king, the Swedish Parliament enacted “freedom of the press,” which gave the Swedish citizens the right to access information about the property of all officials. Over 240 years, the official property declaration system has proven to be an effective weapon in fighting corruption, and many of the countries in the world have emulated it, including China’s Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.
In the face of this grim situation, we demand that the official property publicity to be started from the top, not only because “high-level officials display better ideological and political quality, their job performance stands out, and they also enjoy a relatively high degree of respect by the masses,” but more importantly, because senior officials wield enormous public resources, and hold the power to affect the well-being of China’s 1.3 billion citizens.
During the 18th Party Congress, Shanghai Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng said, as soon as the central authorities made the decision, he could easily make his information public, “because I do not have much property.” The same day, the Guangdong provincial party secretary Wang Yang said, answering questions about official property declarations, that Guangdong is implementing pilot official property declaration system, and will continue exploring it. During last year’s Two Meetings, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian said that, if officials are to make public of their properties, he would be the first to do so. From these public statements, we see that the conditions are ripe for officials’ property holdings to be known to the public.
As prescribed in Article 41 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the right to put forward criticisms of, and suggestions for, anyone working in any state organ.” As citizens of the People’s Republic of China, we ask the 205 most senior officials of China, as listed below, set an example by publishing the income, real estate, investment and other holdings of their own, their spouses’ and their children’s to curb the corrupt behavior of officials from the source, and to build a better China.”
It seems as though Xi would benefit from the wisdom of his newly minted catch phrase, “empty talk harms the country,” as it stands, this trip to Guangdong is nothing more than another hollow gesture that is not substantially different than any of the anti-corruption measures that have come before. If he wants the country to benefit fully from the idea that “hard work prospers the nation,” his first step should be implementing a transparent system for reporting the wealth of officials.