Tycoon’s Claims Show Limits of China’s Anti-graft Drive

Tycoon’s Claims Show Limits of China’s Anti-graft Drive

The number of prosecutions under Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption campaign fell last year for the first time since its inception, and commentators have noted a shift in Party disciplinarians’ focus from fighting graft to enforcing political orthodoxy. Nevertheless, Reuters Christian Shepherd reports, corruption investigations continue, not least within the disciplinary apparatus itself:

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a online statement on its website that a vice-ministerial level inspector from the Central Inspection Team, Zhang Huawei, was under investigation for suspected “serious disciplinary violations”, a common euphemism for graft.

Zhang could not be reached for comment.

The CCDI has in recent months made efforts to show it is serious about tackling corruption within its own ranks, which it refers to as “darkness hiding beneath the light.”

The CCDI began 2017 by airing a three-part television series focusing on cases where graft-busters had been caught on the take and releasing a new series of rules to guard against abuses of power by disciplinary officials. [Source]

At The New York Times, Michael Forsythe reports accusations of corruption among the family of the CCDI’s former chief:

[…] In two rambling interviews with a New York-based media company lasting more than four hours, Guo Wengui, a real estate magnate, described what he said was a ferocious struggle that culminated two years ago in the collapse of a business deal pitting him against relatives of a retired top Communist Party official, He Guoqiang.

[…] If Mr. Guo is to be believed, Mr. Xi, when he assumed leadership of the Communist Party in November 2012, may have faced a far more serious corruption problem than has been publicly disclosed, touching not only the departing chief of the country’s security forces but perhaps also the top official in charge of rooting out graft in the party’s own ranks, Mr. He. Both were members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the elite body that wields supreme power in China.

The former head of the security forces, Zhou Yongkang, was prosecuted on graft charges and is now serving a life sentence in prison. But there is no report that Mr. He or members of his family have been prosecuted. To Mr. Guo, that demonstrates the weakness of the corruption crackdown: Among the elite, the campaign touches only those who are already on the losing side of factional power struggles. [Source]

[Updated at 21:09 PDT on Apr 18, 2017: South China Morning Post reports that Interpol has issued a red notice for Guo—”a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition”—at Beijing’s request for allegedly bribing former state security vice-minister Ma Jian with almost US$9 million.]

The extent to which the corruption crackdown’s targets are determined by conventional factional lines is disputed, but as Yale Law School’s Graham Webster has commented, “there are clearly choices made on whom to target, and political analysts clearly don’t know exactly how they’re made.” On Louisa Lim and Graeme Smith’s Little Red Podcast this week, Minxin Pei—author of “China’s Crony Capitalism“—argues that Xi’s administration is “certainly trying” to clean up corruption, but that the current campaign also serves distinctly political objectives. In so doing, he adds, it has endangered the very Party unity Xi is so intent on building by reinstating “the kind of life and death struggle reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution. […] Since 2012, Chinese elites have realised that if you lost a power struggle, you’re going to lose everything.”

On Twitter, Forsythe recapped previous reporting on the business dealings of Party elites’ families, including the fallen Zhou’s:

Read more via CDT on the Bloomberg investigation—written by Forsythe and others prior to his move to the Times—and the subsequent “defanging” of the organization’s China coverage in the face of pressure from Chinese authorities. The aggressive response to such reporting, together with the demolition of citizen anti-corruption activism, underlines the Party’s determination to preserve a strict monopoly on policing its own ranks.

Forsythe described the process of investigating Guo’s allegations in another Twitter thread, concluding that “there’s so much more to this story. […] So much left unsaid, untweeted.”

Threats to the integrity of the anti-corruption drive also exist at much lower levels than the senior ranks of the CCDI. Earlier this month, Sixth Tone reported on an Anhui mailman sentenced to 22 months in prison for intercepting mail addressed to the local disciplinary organs, and taking money from implicated officials in return for the incriminating documents. These actions, the Legal Evening News lamented, “gravely harmed the glorious image the public holds of the Party and the government.” In another report for Reuters last week, Christian Shepherd described how corruption has similarly impeded the work of another department feared by lower-level officials:

Since ancient times, many of China’s disenfranchised, as a last resort, have aired their grievances to the top leadership in Beijing using written letters and in-person visits.

[…] But for years, top officials in Beijing, including the former vice chairman of the [State Bureau for Letters and Calls], Xu Jie, took bribes to make cases disappear, according to an article published on Sunday by Prosecutorial View.

Xu had amassed gifts and cash worth 5.5 million yuan ($796,900) and was jailed for 13 years in 2015, the official magazine of the Shanghai government prosecutors said.

Xu and a crew of underlings had helped local bureaux from across China fiddle the details of cases so they never appeared in the records, helping to avoid embarrassment for the provincial officials, the magazine said. [Source]

At South China Morning Post on Saturday, meanwhile, Jun Mai reported on fears surrounding the proposed unification of Party and state disciplinary bodies into a new National Supervisory Commission, following CCDI chief Wang Qishan’s comments in February that “there is no such thing as separation between the party and the government […,] only a division of functions.”

While some have welcomed the move, viewing the cohesion brought about by the forming of the commission as a useful tool in stamping out rampant corruption and making the party’s opaque anti-graft operations more accountable, it has also stoked concerns the restructuring marks the beginning of a fusing of the state and the party, making the prospect of liberal political reform even more remote.

[…] Wang’s remark went against the common sense of many Chinese, and could signal a regression of political development, Qin Qianhong, a law professor at Wuhan University, said.

[…] Zhen Zhen, the deputy director of Beijing’s prosecutors office, said lawyers would not be allowed to help officials being investigated by the new commission.

The new arrangement would make investigations on a par with shuanggui, a highly controversial party investigative procedure which has often been criticised for resorting to coercion. [See background via CDT]

Some members of the legal profession have expressed concerns that the merger might lessen protection of human rights. [Source]

On the Little Red Podcast, Pei suggests that inspection bodies are in any case a basically flawed approach to uprooting corruption. He says that “corruption has been structured into the political economy and the governance system of China,” which “has a very well developed corruption market […] that the current campaign […] cannot destroy.” Instead, the crackdown has simply driven corruption further underground and temporarily “suspended trading in this corruption market.” The real source of corruption “is not some moral failing of China’s Communist Party members,” but the fact that “these members, these officials control enormous wealth, and their power is not monitored by a free press, by civil society, and they are protected by powerful patrons inside the system. So the incentives are there for them to use their power to grab a piece of this enormous wealth. And as long as that situation remains unchanged, I just don’t see how anti-corruption campaigns can make a permanent difference.”


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