No one can be above the law in China's anti-corruption fight

Hu Shuli says Beijing must leave no stone unturned if it wishes to build credibility and send a warning to errant officials to clean up their act

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 12:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 6:01pm

No one is off limits in the government's campaign against corruption. CCTV financial news channel director Guo Zhenxi was put under investigation late last month, three months after the sacking of security vice-minister Li Dongsheng, who also worked for the state broadcaster.

In late March, Gu Junshan, a former deputy logistics chief of the People's Liberation Army, was indicted for embezzlement and bribery, among other charges.

This month, the government announced that Su Rong , vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was being investigated for "disciplinary violations", the most senior serving official to be investigated so far. A few days later, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection reported on its website that Ling Zhengce, the vice-chairman of Shanxi's political advisory body, was also under investigation.

The fall from grace of one official after another demonstrates the government's determination to net both "tigers" and "flies".

No organisation or individual should be untouchable, because corruption is pervasive. As these and other cases show, the malaise has reached into every nook and cranny in Chinese society, and collusion between the corrupt is commonplace.

As long as the oversight of power remains lax, corruption will flourish. By coming down hard on perpetrators, the government is building up public confidence in its law enforcement. It also sends a warning to other corrupt officials.

The ferocity of the crackdown under the current government has been unprecedented in recent times. Although supported by most Chinese, the campaign has its doubters nonetheless. Some said cleaning up government is good, but only up to a point, or we risk damaging the image of party and government. Others have voiced fears that a sustained crackdown would hurt economic development.

Yet others have absurdly suggested that the crackdown would encourage inaptitude, because officials who are afraid of being held responsible for making a mistake would try to do as little as possible.

These arguments are all indefensible. People who argue thus may have good intentions but such twisted reasoning can be easily hijacked and used to shield the corrupt. To be sure, revelations of corruption in high places may - for a while - lower some people's trust in the government. But corrupt dealings are a fact, whether or not they have been exposed. Allowing them to fester and rot away China's public institutions is actually the surer way to erode public confidence.

So the fight against corruption cannot be half-hearted. The government must demonstrate its zero tolerance for corruption through its actions. This is the best way to burnish the leadership's image.

China's economic growth is slowing. No doubt businesses in the fine dining, hotel and entertainment industries are hurting because of the corruption crackdown. But should they have flourished to such a degree in the first place? Many of these companies thrive on dirty money; one could argue that the economy would be better off without them.

Anti-graft officers should get even tougher, in fact. When times were good, the problems of overcapacity, high debt and credit risks were easily covered up by the boom. With the focus now on belt-tightening and restructuring, exposing the problems is the first step towards solving them.

It's vital for the government to build a just and fair society to ensure China meets its development and reform goals. And cracking down on the corrupt, wherever they may be found, must be part of this effort.

The military and information control are key parts of the Chinese government, and exposing the rot in these sectors will understandably shake public trust. The cases of Gu Junshan and Guo Zhenxi, for example, show just how deep the problem goes. In the military, especially, corruption can be deadly. Leaders from Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and now Xi Jinping have prioritised the armed forces. They understand that a corrupt army can be easily defeated.

To root out corruption, moral education plays a part. But the most effective means is to build institutions that bring power under scrutiny. Official discipline must be enforced through a system of supervision, accountability and transparency.

Some people have suggested that while the West relies on the rule of law to curb corruption, China should rely on politics.

This is wrong. Corrupt officials like Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu were clever enough to say the right things about opposing corruption, while doing everything wrong. Su Rong, for example, even wrote an article last year demanding stronger enforcement of party discipline. Errant officials must have their knuckles rapped.

This article is provided by Caixin Media, and the Chinese version of it was first published in Century Weekly magazine.