A big lesson here for US and UK – where corruption in government and business is rife

Posted: October 24, 2016 in MScGG research, Musings, Uncategorized
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Maybe a big lesson here for US and UK – where corruption in government and business is rife

China’s Antigraft Enforcers Take On a New Role: Policing Loyalty Credit: CHRIS BUCKLEY (NYT, OCT. 22, 2016)

The Communist Party of China’s anticorruption commission has assumed a growing role as political inquisitor, investigating the commitment of cadres to Mr. Xi and his agenda. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

BEIJING — The investigators descend on government agencies and corporate boardrooms. They interrogate powerful officials and frequently rebuke them for lacking zeal. Most of all, they demand unflinching loyalty to President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party.

They are the inspectors from the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the humbling displays they have orchestrated recently in many of China’s most influential government agencies and largest corporations are the most prominent sign of their expanding authority.

Best known as the country’s anticorruption agency, the commission has lately assumed a growing role as political inquisitor, investigating the loyalty and commitment of cadres to Mr. Xi and his agenda, while cementing the commission’s role as his chief political enforcer.

“It’s not just anticorruption, but more powerfully about central control,” said Jeremy L. Wallace, a political scientist at Cornell University who studies Chinese politics.

Mr. Xi will press his demands for top-down obedience at an annual meeting of the party’s Central Committee in Beijing starting Monday. The committee is expected to issue new rules for “comprehensive and strict management” of the party, especially its top ranks, giving the discipline commission even more leverage to police and punish officials.

The move reflects Mr. Xi’s ambitions and fears as he prepares for a second five-year term as national leader, and has confirmed the rise of the commission and its formidable secretary, Wang Qishan, a longtime ally of Mr. Xi now seen by many as the second-most powerful official in China.

But nothing has illustrated the new order as bluntly as the commission’s intimidating inspections, which the commission calls “political health checks.” They have scrutinized prominent agencies like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the party’sDepartment of Propaganda and the nation’s biggest state companies.

The commission’s investigators have shown a taste for chastening displays of power in what has become a ritual of rebuke and repentance.

At the Ministry of Public Security headquarters in Beijing this month, for instance, hundreds of officers were marched into a cavernous auditorium to listen to investigators excoriate senior ministry officials for lacking “political judgment” and demand greater loyalty to Mr. Xi and the party.

Then their boss, Guo Shengkun, the minister of public security, rose to offer contrition, vowing to make his officers “even more steadfastly and conscientiously” obedient to Mr. Xi and other party leaders. “Loyalty to the party is the top political imperative,” he acknowledged.

Mr. Wang, the commission secretary, has pointedly warned officialsthat under his commission, “being red-faced and sweating will be the norm.”

Another notable target was the Propaganda Department, which the commission censured in June, saying that it “lacked vigor” and that “the political awareness of some leading officials has not been high.”

The criticism of such a powerful arm of the party fueled speculation of a factional rift at the top of Mr. Xi’s government. But dozens of other party and government agencies have faced similar reprimands.

The discipline commission has even taken a role in enforcing Mr. Xi’s economic policies, including efforts to cut back gluts of coal, steel and other industrial products.

But the core of its work is about loyalty to the party and its top leadership, referred to as the party center.

“The entire party must safeguard the authority of the party center,” Mr. Xi said in remarks featured recently on the commission’s website. “There can absolutely be no outwardly shouting that you’re in lock step with the party center while actually you’re not really paying attention.”

Underlying the push for stricter loyalty is fear, the leadership’s nagging nightmare of the Communist Party’s crumbling in a Soviet-style collapse.

“Rebuilding a disciplined hierarchical party organization is about avoiding the collapse Xi and other leaders observed in the Soviet Union,” said Melanie Manion, a political scientist at Duke University. “I think Xi views the stakes for China as very high, but the stakes for Xi as a leader are also high.”

The campaign appears to be timed to reinforce Mr. Xi’s grip on power as the Central Committee is about to set plans in motion to give himanother five-year term as party leader.

Some officials have been publicly swearing to uphold his “absolute authority.”

“Resolutely defend General Secretary Xi Jinping as the leading core of the party’s center,” Li Hongzhong, the party secretary of the port city of Tianjin, vowed at a meeting to respond to criticism of the city by discipline commission inspectors. “Resolutely defend the absolute authority of the leading core.”

For Mr. Xi, the commission has proved a versatile mechanism for fighting corruption, with its ancillary ability to take down or intimidate potential political opponents, and now to enforce loyalty. Its leader, Mr. Wang, is a trusted friend he has known since the 1960s, when the two were sent as youths to labor in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

The commission has long had the power to secretly detain officials without court approval, a contentious and feared tool. But past leaders lacked the authority to take on the corruption and abuses that have flourished since the economic liberalization of the 1990s.

Mr. Wang, with Mr. Xi’s backing, has freed the commission of organizational shackles that once allowed local officials to stymie it, and he has taken to the task with enthusiasm.

Photo

The anticorruption campaign appears to be timed to reinforce Mr. Xi’s grip on power as he anticipates another five-year term as party leader. Credit: Wu Hong/European Pressphoto Agency

“The challenge that worries us most comes from within, from within the People’s Republic of China and from within our own party,” he said in a closed-door speech to his inspectors last year that was leaked on the internet.

He told them that the pressure would not let up. “I’ve said there’ll be no end to this, because if there’s a backlash, there’ll be big problems,” he said.

The dual missions go hand in hand. Mr. Xi and Mr. Wang see corruption as a symptom of a breakdown of control in the party that also spawned disloyal cliques, resistance to policies and disillusionment. They worry that those undercurrents could undermine Mr. Xi and his plans to revive party power.

On a practical level, the anticorruption campaign has deprived thousands of local officials of illicit income, eliciting discontent that the loyalty campaign aims to eradicate.

“The anticorruption campaign has created a lot of resentment and disincentives among public officials,” Ling Li, a lecturer at the University of Vienna who has studied the commission, said in an email. “Political discipline is to repress that resentment and to recreate an incentive for public service.”

So far there have been no signs of public backlash to the campaign. But there are fears that it risks undermining Mr. Xi’s efforts to rejuvenate the economy.

As the discipline commission has taken a role in enforcing economic policies, censuring state-controlled companies and banks, foreign investors have become worried about the effects on their Chinese business partners and clients.

The number of Chinese corporations under investigation by the commission grew to at least 60 last year, from six in 2013, said James M. Zimmerman, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

American businesses should not tolerate corruption, he said, but “we are very much concerned about the expanding scope and uncertain duration of C.C.D.I. investigations, which appears to have extended nationwide and to practically every sector of the economy.”

More broadly, the centralization of power, incessant inspections and demands for conformity have sapped the morale of government officials, experts and investors said. China’s past spurts of economic rejuvenation often came from letting officials take risks, but the relentless pressure for loyalty to the top has instilled caution.

Even the state-run news media and some supporters of Mr. Xi have begun to obliquely acknowledge that the pressure on the officials is taking a toll.

“Since last year, our politics have become very anxiety-ridden, and President Xi is facing passive resistance across the country,” Jin Canrong, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing, said in arecent speech.

“There is widespread inaction from local elites and local governments,” he said. “Nobody opposes, but nobody does anything.”

 

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