Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

At a Politburo “group learning activity” on Tuesday, Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of adherence to socialism with Chinese characteristics, urging Party members to learn from history and serve the people. Notably, he also stressed that senior members of the CCP should lead by moral example. At China Real Time, Russell Leigh Moses suggested that “Xi and his reformist colleagues are clearly interested in creating a fresh sort of politics, even at the very top of the system”:

In a speech at the conclusion of a three-day special meeting that was covered across Party media and took up nearly half of the evening newscast on Tuesday evening, Xi proclaimed that senior members of the Party needed “to play an exemplary role,” and that they had to be “broad-minded enough to reject any selfishness…to adhere to self-respect, self-examination and self-admonition” in their work (in Chinese).

[...] Xi’s reprimand seems to imply that some of them are not.  His predecessors talked about the general threat to Party rule from the evils of corruption; but in nearly every case they chose to scold officials in the abstract, instead of smacking them around.  As with so many other efforts, Xi’s being different.

[...] Whatever form the next round of fighting takes, Xi and his reformist colleagues are clearly interested in creating a fresh sort of politics, even at the very top of the system.  This is risk-taking and resolution of a high order–and it brings a real political showdown with opponents of Xi’s brand of reform all the closer. [Source]

But introducing a ChinaFile Conversation on the question “Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?” Roderick MacFarquhar argued that Xi’s ability to take on elite corruption will be limited by higher priorities:

Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader. Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn’t want to be remembered in history as the Gorbachev of China. To that end he will keep the PLA leadership close to him, as “lips and teeth.” And he is unlikely to permit greater political liberalization—reversing the verdicts on June 4 for example–which might contribute to a loss of party control over the population.

What his aim also means is that he cannot have a thorough-going anti-corruption drive that could target his senior colleagues and their cronies. A few egregious cases that become public may have to be prosecuted and Bo Xilai is a special case—though even there the delay in bringing him to trial shows how cautious the leadership is when it comes to members of the Politburo—but it is highly likely that the main targets of the drive will only be middle- to lower-ranking officials. [Source]

Most of the other participants agreed, though Sinocism’s Bill Bishop urged “do not underestimate how serious [Xi] is, and how much personal prestige he is investing.”

The Economist, meanwhile, explained liberals’ suspicions that the anti-corruption drive “is also about reimposing ideological orthodoxy and dampening demands for political reform.”

A powerful piece of evidence for this view is the party’s circulation in recent weeks of “Document Number Nine”. Its full contents have not been made public, but by all accounts it paints a grim picture of what the party sees as the threat posed by liberal ways of thinking. Officials high and low have been summoned to briefings on it. The message: denounce any dissent and be on guard against Westerners’ subversive plots and such “extremely malicious” notions as universal values, civil society and constitutional democracy.

[...] Optimists say it is only natural for Mr Xi to act tough in the political realm if he means to pass reforms that would take on powerful interest groups such as state-owned enterprises (SOEs). His emphasis on following party orders may be partly aimed at political liberals. But it could be just as much a warning to SOE bosses that it is time to bite the bullet of reform. Unfortunately, one of the messages of Document Number Nine appears to be that calls for economic liberalism also pose a threat. Mr Xi is signalling in all directions. [Source]