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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 7:11pm
Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 1:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 6:46pm

Xi Jinping may be in over his head with anti-corruption crusade

President's bid to root out graft threatens the system's foundation, and could destroy him


Jake van der Kamp is a native of the Netherlands, a Canadian citizen, and a longtime Hong Kong resident. He started as a South China Morning Post business reporter in 1978, soon made a career change to investment analyst and returned to the newspaper in 1998 as a financial columnist.

President Xi Jinping has said before that the fight against corruption would "go after the tigers as well as the flies", meaning no one was immune.

China Briefing
SCMP, April 7

Let's examine three scenarios here for what Mr Xi may be up against in either tigers, flies, or the whole range of species in between.

For scenario one, we shall take the cynical approach. We will say that he is cementing his power base by bringing selective corruption charges against rivals who have knives hidden behind their backs. The charges may be fully justified but their purpose is an exercise in palace politics, not a purge of corruption.

This scenario certainly fits the circumstances of many regimes that scorn the ballot box. Traditionally, you accuse your rival of being a Trotskyite, a capitalist roader or otherwise a deviationist from pure political thought. In today's context, a sex scandal or corruption charge will do as well.

I doubt, however, that this is what we have here. I am no reader of the Zhongnanhai tea leaves, but it strikes me that Xi has things pretty much under control. He has acceded to the presidency in the established formal manner, has already jailed at least one serious rival, and has seen the previous incumbent out the door. He doesn't need an anti-corruption drive to establish his authority.

So let us try scenario two and the angelic view. In this one, corruption is a serious but not endemic problem on the mainland. It can be eradicated by resolute action if the senior leaders of government are sufficiently determined to do it.

Xi certainly seems the sort of person who would fit the bill here. He is clearly offended by corruption, and no taint of it has attached itself to his own name. His colleagues apparently support him, and so far he has had all ranks of officialdom quaking in their boots that his eyes may turn their way. A real clean-up is in process.

And now scenario three. This one says that corruption is an invariable public-sector characteristic. The greater the role that government plays in any economy, the more graft there will be.

Studies done by the corruption watchdog Transparency International certainly confirm that the public sector is much more vulnerable than the private.

What is more, once corruption reaches a certain level in any sector it becomes all pervasive. To keep your job you must pay or take your share of the bribe. You otherwise pose a threat of exposure to your colleagues, and they will conspire to get rid of you.

When corruption reaches this level, it also works its way into the pay structure of those who participate in it. The bribe is shared down the ranks and becomes a regular and reliable part of everyone's annual income. It is not always an equitable share but no-one is denied. Everyone is in.

To threaten everyone, flies as well as tigers, with prison sentences for corruption is then to criminalise a large proportion of the population and seriously undermine its livelihood.

Administrative measures can have no success against corruption that has become this pervasive. Only a fundamental restructuring of the entire economy can do anything about it.

It is thus all very well for a national president to say that he will stamp out corruption and stage a few demonstration trials of egregiously corrupt officials. But for him to try and change an entire system of corruption through police action is to invite a widespread groundswell of reaction that may result in sweeping himself away.

It is my belief that this is the circumstance in which Xi actually finds himself, and it is my worry that he may not recognise it. He comes across to me as a true believer who may not see the danger to himself, and the consequent danger to the stability of the country.

As Mikhail Gorbachev was in Russia, Xi is fundamentally a believer in communist principles. He cannot accept so basic a flaw in them without questioning the roots of his own political beliefs or his own authority.

Yet I cannot imagine that he would care to follow where Gorbachev has trod. Bag yourself a few tigers, Mr Xi, but don't threaten the flies.



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This article is now closed to comments

Xi is not just a corruption police. If he is just so JVDK’s thesis may be correct.
Xi is working at all fronts – including raising wages across all spectrums. The laughable small wages have been the major cause in many social ills including that of corruption.
Two years into his job, Xi is confident enough about his reform policies that he is not just sitting in Zhongnanhai but gets on a plane and leaves his country to be with the rest of the world that no other leaders before him in China had done so as frequent.
Corruption not endemic? Jake must not have been to a town or village
deep inside China. Corruption may not be completely ruled out,
but if unchecked will only get worse and not better. Xi is no reformer
but doing what he needs to stay in power; to remain legitimate.
A real fight against corruption while leading the most repressive era for the press , dissidents, and independent thinkers ?
Mr JVDK, you , out of all people should know better. Mr Xi has clearly succeded blinding you with star powder.
To date the anti-corruption platform has been about firming up Xi's security, personal security. Bo, Zhou, Xu and some others had to go. The rest is for show. Once quotas have been met, things will go back to the status quo ante. This is not just about corrupt officials, it is a about how the entire system functions. The resistance to change is not just from officials. It is also from the guy on the street and business people who has his network of people who take care of him and who he takes care of in return.
John Adams
I would believe in your No 2 scenario, Jake (because - like you - I too want to see all corruption wiped out in our Mainland)
But very sadly I have to believe even more in your No 3 scenario
Even despite our NAZI - CIA- KGB - type ICAC we still have the SHK - Rafael H u i type scandals, not to mention the J Lau Macau -type convicted criminals
Obviously even the ICAC is not not enough to deter those who really want to flaunt the anti-corruption law to the limit .
Disgusting !
Corruption is endemic to China which you corroborate yourself with your explanation of how the system works.
Xi is aware of what he is doing.... He is not here to wipe out corruption he is here to wipe out his rivals..... If you are successful in wiping corruption there will be no members left in the communist party...
Under scenerio 2 Jake says "He (Xi JinPing) is clearly offended by corruption, and no taint of it has attached itself to his own name." Jake did you miss the article from NYT or Bloomberg that Xi's family is worth USD 100 Million? Now that's not particularly impressive in comparison to the USD 2.4 Billion Wen Jia Bao's clan has extracted, but still USD 100 million isn't bad and he's only just getting started. Did you miss the fact that Xi JinPing's daughter attends Harvard, or as it is thought of in China as Louis Vuitton University, the ultimate brand name university for the highest status CCP cadre. Seems that scenerio 2 isn't plausible, rather scenerio 3 is most illustrative as Pei Min Xin has been telling us for years.
Jake's is saying arrest the tigers but don't threaten the flies. This statement is rather absurd and is the same as saying big criminals are not acceptable but small crimes should be tolerated in society.
Oh you short sighted one. Xi is making a few examples of tigers to make the Hyenas feel sufficiently threatened to stop whatever they are doing. If Zhou YK can go down along with the rest of his 2 circles, then so can the Hyenas is Xi's message. Hopefully, that will do the trick. But, it could turn back and bite him, especially as he is going after the PLA. If a Lt. General is about to go down, what has he got to lose? Why not do whatever it is he can to either save himself or, in such a desperate situation, scorch the land? Commies don't love their country. Commies live themselves first, then the Party. Xi either will succeed with this purge (and that is what it is as Jake so aptly pointed out), or he will suddenly find himself in over-reach and who he counted on to support him will vaporize in an instant. Same reason Bo XL was feeding ducks in Yunnan a few days after Wang LJ was visiting the US Consulate. He was checking to see if his father's generals had his back. They said he was on his own.
We do not know the extent of corruption, we have glimpses of the enormous wealth of certain top leaders families but we do not know how big the problem is. Perhaps what we see is the tip of an iceberg, perhaps not. Is Xi Jinping cleaning up corruption, or just cleaning up? We don’t know. Will the crackdown result in less corruption, or more? Again, we don’t know. It could be that the dirty money is just being concentrated in the hands of the Tigers, AKA the Inner Party. The only thing we know is that we will only know the extent of problem and the success of the anti corruption campaign when Xi shines a light on the problem, by forcing disclosure of cadres assets. So as long as Xi blocks coverage of corruption in elite families, including his own, and as long as he imprisons campaigners for official assets disclosure, he will just deepen the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the subject, which can only benefit the corrupt. Justice needs to be done, and seen to be done.




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