23/05/2013 | Corruption in China - Checked and balanced?
The Economist Staff
Officials try to rein in corruption without undertaking political reform.
"IF THERE were no contradictions in the party and no ideological struggles to resolve them,” wrote Mao Zedong in an influential 1937 essay, “the party’s life would come to an end.” Today, the Communist Party that Mao built still rules China, and if contradictions are in fact what sustains it, then the end of party rule is nowhere yet in sight. On the economic front, the contradictions may be resolved. But the recent detention of a senior official shows how technology and changing public expectations have made political contradictions even more difficult to resolve, with big potential implications for the party.
Xinhua, the state news agency, reported on 12th May that the official, Liu Tienan, was being investigated for “suspected serious violations of discipline,” an official euphemism for corruption. Mr Liu was deputy chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s planning body and one of its most powerful agencies.
China’s new president and party chief, Xi Jinping, and the new prime minister, Li Keqiang, both speak frequently and forcefully about the dire consequences of failing to control corruption. But the circumstances of Mr Liu’s removal show how difficult it will be for China to grapple with its corruption problem while also restricting the development of independent checks and balances on party rule.
Officials have provided no information about the nature of Mr Liu’s alleged wrongdoing but in December he was accused by an investigative reporter of defrauding banks, taking bribes, lying about his academic credentials and making death threats against a former mistress. The reporter, Luo Changping, is a deputy editor of Caijing, a prominent business magazine, but he published his accusations against Mr Liu on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform.
Rather than defending Mr Liu, state-run media have been praising Mr Luo and his brand of citizen journalism. China Daily, a state-run newspaper, said in an editorial that Mr Liu was the first ministerial-level official to be investigated as a result of accusations on the internet. In a similar recent case, Lei Zhengfu, a lower-level official in Chongqing, was removed from his post and charged with corruption after his appearance in a sex tape was exposed by another Chinese blogger.
Global Times, a state-run newspaper, called the detention of Mr Liu a “victory for Weibo” and said on May 13th that Chinese society, including officials, accepts “the positive impact brought by non-mainstream online activities”.
But even as Chinese leaders moved against Mr Liu, they have continued to stress the need to “maintain stability.” Under this catchphrase falls a wide range of measures aimed at controlling the nation’s media, judiciary and academic institutions. Censors limit the circulation of information that calls into question the judgment or legitimacy of the regime. All elements of the legal system—police, prosecutors and courts—are subject to party control. The party proscribes entire realms of inquiry at universities.
On 10th May the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, reported on a new directive listing seven subjects that Chinese universities should refrain from discussing. Among them were freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, universal values and civil rights.
The Communist Party has also warned its officials in a directive to guard against “viewpoints and theories proclaimed in the West”. Several Chinese cities have held meetings to discuss the directive, issued by the national party leadership, giving guidance on “ideological work”. A local party body in Chongqing posted, and then deleted, an online report on one such meeting that included references to “seven prominent issues” but did not list them. It urged “sober awareness” of the “intensity” and “complexity” of the current ideological struggle.
The government is clearly allowing a little more media oversight, but observers worry that Mr Liu was a sacrifice to persuade people that Mr Xi is serious about combating corruption, when in fact he has no plans for broader institutional reform. Whether he can satisfy popular demands for cleaner government while maintaining party control may be the contradiction that comes to define his time in power.
The Economist(Reino Unido)
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