Why Beijing Booked Its Bookkeeper

The probe into the Shanghai pension fund scandal keeps on yielding handy political dividends for China’s top leaders, and in particular, for the tough diet they’re trying to enforce to curb the state’s building bulge. First the party Feds busted Shanghai’s free-spending boss, Chen Liangyu. Now they’ve nailed the rather laissez-faire reformist who kept the country’s books, Stats Bureau (NBS) chief Qiu Xiaohua. Officially, Qiu was being targeted over a “severe violation of party discipline”, a spokesman for the bureau confirmed late last week. So far, though, state media have not pinpointed the charges.

Well, here’s a little hint. According to two independent sources in the Chinese press with ties to the NBS, Qiu’s accused of pocketing a bribe worth some 500,000 yuan ($63,000) from Zhang Rongkun, the shadowy 33-year-old big businessman whose use of city pension funds to build privately invested tollways lies at the heart of the probe. The announcement of Zhang’s formal arrest – the first in the Shanghai case – came just about a day after that of Qiu’s indictment.

The motive behind the alleged bribe was not fully clear. But in this sniping bit of commentary on its Web site, the Xinhua news agency strongly suggests that Qiu was paid to look the other way as Shanghai officials cropped their balance sheets. “How could even a senior official from an ‘office free from corruption’ (qing shui yamen Ê∏ÖÊ∞¥Ë°ôÈó®) run into trouble?” asks Xinhua editorialist Yi Fei. He answers:

In the case of the statistics bureaucracy, although it really doesn’t hold true power, it does hold the “report card” of officials’ career achievements (zhengji ÊîøÁª©). When local government officials want to play tricks with their GDP figure, the statistics bureaucracy’s usefulness comes to the forefront. In some parts of the country, “watering down statistics” is already an open secret. One factor in this is administrative intervention by local leaders, and inevitably, an exchange of interests is also a part of it. Qiu Xiaohua’s involvement in the Shanghai social security case shows that such exchanges of interest have seeped from the localities into central government departments, and the damage from this is worth guarding against.

Thanks to Northwestern’s Vic Shih for catching this editorial on his Chinese Politics blog. Yi Fei is a bi ganzi indeed. Let the smear campaign against Qiu begin!

October 23, 2006 12:25 AM