Wen Vows “Stronger” Anti-Corruption Measures

Amid the dismissal and investigation of Bo Xilai, Premier Wen Jiabao has vowed “stronger” measures to combat corruption. As China prepares for a leadership change, Bo’s removal and other cases of corruption have led to increased public unrest. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Public supervision is needed to limit the abuse of power, and authorities must continue to work for a “clean government” in 2012, the last year of the current administration, he wrote in Qiushi, Seeking Truth, according to a preview posted on the central government website yesterday.

In his article, titled “Let Power be Exercised in the Sunshine,” Wen wrote that governments at all levels should be open to supervision by the people, as well as stricter administrative inspection and auditing, according to the preview.

Those that underperform, allow important case of corruption to occur or fail to handle corruption cases in a timely manner will be held accountable, he wrote. They should “immediately respond to and investigate problems reported by the people and the media and publicize the results of investigations in a timely manner,” Wen wrote.

In an April 14 commentary, “Law and Party Disciplines Brook No Violation,” Xinhua said “The spouses and children of some officials have taken advantage of their power to seek personal gains, disregarding the law, thus stirring public outcry.” The cases of Bo and his former police chief Wang Lijun have ”nothing to do with a so-called ‘political struggle,’” Xinhua said.

As Premier Wen urges for a campaign against corruption, some analysts are saying that this move may not be the best move for the party. The Washington Post reports:

Usually, campaigns against corruption are seductive for Chinese leaders, in part because they are inherently popular with the masses. Nearly every citizen with a gripe about the well-connected wealthy is heartened by Beijing striking out at local leaders for excessive largesse. Anti-corruption efforts are meant to show Chinese subjects that upper-level officials want to rectify social imbalances produced by cadres behaving badly.

So, amid normal times in China, anti-corruption campaigns are the perfect placebo. But these are anything but normal times. And the party leadership is caught in a bind.

Striking out at Bo’s family has brought to the fore public rage about officials using their position to secure everything from economic advantage to foreign assets and passports. It would be popular to launch a major crackdown on the back of Bo’s fall, but that risks public indignation spilling into the streets, especially if the expectation of action against major families and high officials goes unfulfilled.

And there could be fallout inside the party. Bo’s supporters on the Left could claim that they’re the real supporters of social justice, not the hardline Center. Reformers would protest that all of these campaigns do not focus on the core challenge for this leadership and the next: economic and political restructuring. The party, at the very time it needs unity, could easily end up in deeper strife.

Read more about the Bo Xilai investigation via CDT.