Guangdong set for tough blitz in war on graft

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
 

Guangdong officials may have a hard time escaping the heat this summer, as provincial party boss Wang Yang appears poised to escalate his campaign against corrupt cadres - especially as it promises to further increase his political capital ahead of the 18th Communist Party congress.

The party secretary told government officials last week Guangdong's graft-busters would offer no quarter to bureaucrats and party leaders cheating the system for personal gain. 'We must fight corruption with extreme determination, courage and persistence in order to maintain the advancement and purity of the Chinese Communist Party,' he said, according to mainland media.

'We will not offer any appeasement to corrupt parties.'

Coming as the 18th national party congress looms, Wang's campaign has drawn both praise for its breadth and criticism for its resemblance to the politically tinged crackdowns carried out by Bo Xilai before his removal in March as Chongqing party boss.

More than 1,000 party officials and civil servants have been arrested since February alone, when Wang, widely seen as a top contender for one of nine seats on the Politburo's all-powerful Standing Committee, expanded and rebranded the campaign as 'three busts and two builds'.

The 'busts' refer to efforts to crack down on counterfeit goods, commercial bribery and market manipulation that uses triad-style intimidation tactics. The 'builds' describe plans to establish a credit-rating system for consumers and improve market oversight.

Such campaigns have helped Wang establish a reputation - at home and abroad - as one of the mainland's most promising advocates for reform, especially since corruption has become so widespread that some believe it threatens the country's development.

But some observers see parallels between Wang's campaigns and the purges carried out by Bo, who, after succeeding Wang as Chongqing boss in 2007, launched his 'strike the black' campaign against local triads.

While the campaign was seen as effective at reducing crime, some people accused Bo of using it as an opportunity to grab headlines, build political clout and remove perceived adversaries from power.

Independent political commentator Zhu Jianguo said Wang's crackdown similarly served to improve the party secretary's image and distract from public discontent over worsening pollution and economic conditions in the province. 'This is similar to the campaign run by Bo Xilai in Chongqing,' Zhu said. 'Both were ordered by the top party secretaries in their provinces and both campaigns were intended to boost opportunities for these political stars to secure a seat in the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

'For Wang, this campaign has been prominent enough to cover up his lack of performance in improving the economy, protecting the environment and raising people's living standards.'

There are important differences between the 'Guangdong model' and 'Chongqing model' as the two men's policies are sometimes described. Wang's campaigns stress more limited government and political openness and lack the nostalgic Maoism of Bo's campaigns.

Also, no one has yet accused Wang of using the harsh tactics, such as torture, which some say Bo employed as he rounded up officials.

The first ripples of Wang's campaign were felt in Guangzhou and Shenzhen and it eventually netted Xie Pengfei, a former provincial deputy secretary general, and Wei Jinfeng , a deputy head of the province's financial bureau.

Other high-level figures include Li Zhizhen , former director of Guangzhou's civil affairs bureau; Wu Huasen , former head of the province's Bureau of Coal Geology, and Liang Bizhi , the party chief of Xiashan district in Zhanjiang in the province's southwest.

The arrests have caused some grumbling in the province. An official close to the top leadership of Guangzhou said morale among senior cadres had been severely damaged.

But Beijing-based political commentator Hu Xingdou said that graft had become so pervasive that a campaign like Wang's was unavoidable. 'There is nothing Chinese people detest more than corruption, so Wang is winning a lot of hearts with this campaign,' Hu said.

'For a reformist leader, Wang must demonstrate utter determination to fight graft ahead of the 18th party congress.'

Hu said senior officials were likely to be spared in the months ahead as 'Wang is mindful not to burn too many bridges and make more enemies than he needs'.

Many saw the arrests last month of nearly 150 low- and mid-level officials in Shantou as an indication that the campaign was moving on from Guangzhou and Shenzhen to focus on second-tier cities. 'We will see authorities in other Guangdong cities release their own list of local officials being toppled as signs of support for Wang Yang,' said Professor Cai Lihui of Sun Yat-sen University's school of government, who agreed that more top officials were unlikely to be targeted.

Some observers said Wang was also using the crackdown to clear the field of political obstacles. 'Cracking down on corrupt officials is an old tactic to eliminate enemies,' said one Guangzhou-based political commentator, who refused to be named.

Additional reporting by He Huifeng

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