Getting to the root of mainland corruption
The transcripts of a roundtable on China's internal dilemmas and the implications for the US were made public recently. The discussion, held by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) on February 25 in Washington, threw up some interesting insight into corruption in China.
Martin Whyte, a sociology professor of Harvard University, opined that corruption cases are 'managed' by the Communist Party.
'There is no independent Hong Kong-style anti-corruption commission or something outside the party's ambit to clear up things. So there's inevitable suspicion that the top party officials are making these decisions to scapegoat this guy and let this other guy slide.'
Jim Mann, a former Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, said: 'I have not yet seen a US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case involving China. You know, when people are extorted, they tend to say no and pull out quietly.'
The remedy for corruption in China is an independent press, said Mann. 'But that's where the leadership digs in and says 'no'. The party wants to make itself more accountable. But they can't quite see their way to do it.'
USCC Chairman William Reinsch said: 'My sense is the approach is incredibly superficial. There is a big campaign, they arrest a few people, they shoot a few people, and then it all goes away. In two or three years, it all comes back again and they do it again. They don't fundamentally change anything because if you want to root it out, you need to have a governance system that works differently.'
In the name of progress
Talking about corruption and the mainland, it was reported yesterday that a US federal grand jury has indicted three former senior board members of Xinhua Finance of over US$50 million of fraud. Xinhua Finance, listed in Tokyo and with headquarters in Shanghai, provides financial news and information. The trio indicted were former Xinhua Finance chief executive Loretta Fredy Bush, audit committee chairman Shelly Singhal and compensation committee chairman Dennis Pelino.
An internal memo by Bush (pictured) to Xinhua Finance employees on July 5, 2007, marked private and confidential, said: 'In May 2007, I wrote to you in the face of some nasty and misleading media reports, to correct the record on a variety of issues. I'm pleased to report that we are making good progress in pursuing the corporate governance initiatives.
'While we are making good progress on these fronts, we also have continued to see a series of media reports that have been terribly misleading in the portrait they painted of our company and my private life. Reporters have repeated the complaints of a small handful of former employees and critics of our company and ignored the thousands of proud employees who built this company as well as the many satisfied customers that we serve.
'Our best response to these misleading media reports is to grow our company and create shareholder value.'
From the time of the memo on July 5, 2007, to yesterday, Xinhua Finance's share price dropped from roughly 60,000 yen to 1,406 yen.
Good progress, indeed.
Let's drink to Coca-Cola
It's good to see multinationals like HSBC and Coca-Cola concerned with the mainland's water problems.
In a presentation to the American Water Resources Association in the US in April, HSBC executives warned that Beijing's water withdrawals far outstripped supply, causing the capital's water table to drop by 1.5 metres every year, according to the website of environmental group Probe International.
'Per unit of GDP, Beijing used five times more water than Hong Kong. There is no way the [Beijing] region's water resources can support the population. To make up the difference, groundwater is being extracted at rates far exceeding sustainable yield,' said the report.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola said it would donate US$4 million to the United Nations Development Programme Water Stewardship Programme in China and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Yangtze Partnership.
'Coca-Cola's 2020 goal is to safely return to nature and communities an amount of water equivalent to what is used in all of its beverages,' the company said.
The UNDP Water Stewardship Programme in China was founded in 2007 as a partnership between Coca-Cola, the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, China's Ministry of Commerce and the UNDP. The Yangtze Partnership is involved in water conservation projects along the Yangtze River basin.
Can't just bank on cola, can we?