Clean and capable civil service needed to realise Xi Jinping's 'Chinese dream'

Hilton Cheong-Leen believes China needs a well-trained and well-paid civil service if the nation is to modernise and curb corruption

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 1:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 1:46am

In May and June of 1950, I made a train journey with my wife from Hong Kong to Beijing. We stayed for a month at her parents' hutong home, which had a big old tree in the courtyard about seven metres away from the main entrance. Returning to Hong Kong, we did two- or three-day stopovers at Tianjin , Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The people I talked to came from different walks of life - teachers, musicians, social workers, doctors and nurses, businessmen and Communist Party cadres. Most said the new party administrators who had taken over would root out corruption and provide honest government to improve people's livelihoods.

Today, more than 60 years on, President Xi Jinping's message is very similar; he has launched a nationwide anti-corruption drive.

There have been numerous anti-corruption campaigns in the past two decades; they usually begin with a much-heralded media opening but eventually fizzle out, mostly because of a lack of transparency to keep the momentum going.

In today's information technology age, the internet, weibo and blogs ensure that the flow of information keeps increasing exponentially - so much so that the authorities have to select which cases to pursue and bring to justice for public opinion to see that the anti-corruption campaign is producing results.

Overall, credit is due to Xi and his predecessor, Hu Jintao , in allowing more transparency so that a number of party leaders and those in the public and private sectors have been exposed and brought to justice. These cases have been reported in the national and international media.

The current Politburo seems pragmatically sensitive to public opinion, aware of a fast-expanding middle class and professionals who feel they are being left behind because of the rich-poor wealth gap.

Unfortunately, no matter how unacceptable it is to the public, corruption cannot be eradicated overnight. In the meantime, the top leadership could do worse than take note of a recent column in this paper advocating raising salaries for low-level civil servants. Such action is long overdue. China needs a modern, well-trained civil service with the knowledge, skills and transparency to win over a restive public to support its policies.

A civil service that is fairly and reasonably well-paid will provide greater stability and strengthen the rule of law, thus improving the quality of governance for the nation and the people.

Many years ago, when I was a legislative councillor, I constantly sought to upgrade the knowledge and skills of the police force, and to improve its pay scales; at that time, the force was rife with graft, and suffered from low morale.

Today, the police force is known internationally for its high standards and Hong Kong people are proud of the quality, discipline and loyalty of our officers.

In much the same way, a modernised civil service will be better equipped to bring about President Xi's "Chinese dream" for a stable and prosperous nation, and a society living in harmony with the rest of the world. We in Hong Kong should do our part to support him.

Hilton Cheong-Leen is president of the Hong Kong Civic Association