Effective rule of law must be end goal of China's corruption fight
Hu Shuli says legal, political, social and economic reforms must be carried out simultaneously to achieve a transformation of the system
It was not a coincidence that the investigation into the disciplinary violations of former senior party official Zhou Yongkang and plans to discuss law reforms at the fourth plenary session of the 18th Central Committee were announced on the same day, as they are directly linked and together could herald the start of a new phase in China's history.
Zhou is the highest-ranking official to be probed for corruption in the history of the Chinese Communist Party. He was once a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and well-connected in the oil sector and in the Sichuan government. His fall from grace has shown the public the new leadership's determination to fight corruption at different government levels.
Some now think that the case signals the end of this round of anti-corruption purges while others believe the hunt for "tigers" will continue.
The latter is the most likely. It is a needed step, if legal improvements are to be made. Zhou's case will afford investigators greater insight into the extent of corruption and his treatment will act as a prime example of how corruption should be fought. This case will set a precedent for how the rule of law should be implemented comprehensively in fighting corruption.
The downfall of any corrupt official, big or small, will surely draw wide public attention. However, what is more important is to build a legal framework in the course of fighting corruption. Since corruption is inevitable at a time when China's economy is undergoing a process of rapid development and transformation, it is even more necessary to remain on guard against it. As such, the rule of law is the most powerful tool available to fight corruption.
While Zhou's corruption and that of his associates has shocked everyone, what has upset people even more is that it reveals weakening rule of law and a tarnished legal system.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection must now be strengthened and intra-party regulations reinforced. Simply relying on the party to clean itself up is not enough, which is why policymakers have set legal reform as the theme for the fourth plenum.
Strictly speaking, there are five ways to accelerate legal reform: the authority of the constitution and the law must be maintained; the reform of administrative and law-enforcement systems must be deepened; judicial and procuratorial powers must be executed legally, separately and impartially; the operational mechanism of judicial authorities must be strengthened; and judicial protection for human rights must be upgraded.
Corruption in its different forms has, in effect, been a kind of looting, resulting from the alienation of public power. Xi Jinping once said that before the country could be ruled by law, the country should first be ruled by the constitution, and that the life and authority of the constitution lies in its implementation.
Moreover, it is important to restrict the use of power in the meantime while scrutinising the legal system. A system for the exercise of power must be developed based on rational decision-making and resolutely implemented and effectively scrutinised, while a sound mechanism to punish and prevent corruption must be strengthened.
A consensus on the principles and direction regarding these matters has long been reached in society. What is urgently needed is a specific system design to bring it into effect.
The work of legal reform will not be completed automatically. Since it is closely related to a host of other system reforms, it will also involve problems such as benefit adjustments. The corrupt are snatching wealth by exploiting flaws in the existing system and through complicated political and business alliances. They will not give up their wealth easily. Thus, political, economic and social reforms must forge ahead decisively and the corrupt must be dealt with by drastic measures.
While a sweeping method of fighting corruption could be effective in the critical early period, a regular, rule-of-law-oriented system to monitor any exercise of power needs to be formed as quickly as possible.
Now is the right time to kick-start judicial reform. If China can successfully implement judicial reform, with a focus on the independent exercise of judicial power, this will be the key to the success of its social transformation.
According to experience at home and abroad, the more radical the reforms to a system, the more successful the efforts to curb corruption. The Chinese leadership has been wise to target corrupt officials, but that alone is not enough. It must be determined to change the system and make history.
The tumour of corruption can be removed through the rule of law if high-profile cases such as that of Zhou Yongkang can be used as prime examples. This can generate an "anti-corruption bonus" for Chinese society.
This article is provided by Caixin Media, and the Chinese version of it was first published in Century Weekly magazine. www.caing.com