Broken Promises in the Fight Against Corruption

Before President Xi Jinping assumed power in March, he promised to crack down on corruption at all levels of the Chinese government. Since then, 2,290 officials have been disciplined in a frugality campaign, official statistics have shown. Most of those disciplined appear to be low- to mid-level officials, but some higher-profile cases, such as that of former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun, have also been prosecuted under Xi’s watch.

One tactic in the fight against has been to call on officials to publicly disclose their assets. But initial official promises to do just that have not panned out:

Amid China’s once-a-decade leadership change that concluded this spring, a handful of officials said they would make public disclosures of their assets. The pledges, spurred by extensive coverage in state-run media, fostered belief among some academics and others that Mr. Xi would increase government transparency and accountability. White-collar workers hope asset disclosures will ensure officials pay their fair share of taxes.

But a Wall Street Journal examination of the modest asset-declaration programs announced in four provinces indicates details that may once have been available are again hidden. [Source]

The government’s commitment to fight corruption is now being called into question given a crackdown on activists and journalists who advocate for more government transparency. In the Wall Street Journal, legal scholar Stanley Lubman writes:

Xi Jinping rightly recognizes that corruption is so deeply embedded in Chinese political life that it threatens the very life of the Communist Party. But going after foreign companies is relatively easy. The question is whether Xi and the rest of the party leadership are willing or able to confront more fundamental abuses at the heart of the political system.

The credibility of China’s current anti-corruption campaign has plummeted following a crackdown on activists calling for greater governmental transparency. More than a dozen have been taken into custody in recent months, including well-known human rights advocate, law lecturer Xu Zhiyong, who was detained by Chinese police in July because he had “gathered crowds to disrupt public order.” In May, Xu, together with others, issued an open letter that urged release of 10 activists who had been arrested for publicly demonstrating against corruption and who had called on officials to disclose their financial assets.

By detaining Xu, Chinese authorities have silenced one of the country’s more prominent advocates of legal reform. In doing so, they have lessened pressure on themselves to confront the corruption infecting the country’s courts. [Source]

Meanwhile, authorities have tried to silence another outlet for whistle-blowing on official malfeasance, independent citizen journalist websites. From the South China Morning Post:

The State Council’s National Internet Information Office has closed 107 informal news websites and portals since May 9, according to a list obtained by the Beijing News.

[…] Some government officials have spoken out defending the move. According to Ren Zhanzhou, a spokesman for Sanmenxia in Henan province, these websites have either not fulfilled registration requirements, are “fake news organisations” or have “fabricated or collected negative news to extort companies”.

For Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, the crackdown contradicts President Xi Jinping’s vow to “always listen to the voice of the people”, when he assumed office in March.

Many of these websites, she said “provide opportunities for ordinary people to voice their grievances and to blow the whistle on official misconduct and corruption”. [Source]

Journalists who are forbidden from independently investigating corruption have increasingly taken to weibo to publicize cases they have uncovered in their work. The South China Morning Post writes:

Liu Hu, an investigative journalist with the New Express newspaper, said on his microblog that Ma Zhengqi, deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), had waived further investigation into the suspicious privatisation of two state-owned companies that were merged when he was party secretary of Wanzhou district in Chongqing.

This marks the fourth high-profile exposure in recent months by journalists using their real names on social media. Previously, a deputy editor with Caijing magazine, Luo Changping , accused Liu Tienan, a former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, of corruption, resulting in him being sacked and investigated.

“I am pained to see so much worth of state assets embezzled by civil servants,” Liu Hu told the Post in an online interview yesterday before his related posts were deleted by censors.