China leadership

Recent anti-corruption blitz may be PR or signal reform

Prospects for real change unclear amid action against corrupt cadres since Xi's rise to power

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2012, 4:54am

At least 10 senior provincial and local officials have been snared in a graft-busting blitz since the new Communist Party leadership was named three weeks ago - a campaign that some analysts say is aimed at winning back public support and rebuilding trust.

Li Chuncheng, Sichuan's deputy party chief, is the latest and most senior official targeted in the ongoing crackdown, launched by the new leadership headed by party general secretary Xi Jinping.

But some analysts have urged caution when judging the motivation for the campaign and its effectiveness, saying that anti-graft drives have long been a favoured tool of new political leaders.

China once again received poor marks in an annual international corruption index released this week, underscoring a worsening problem that party leaders, including, Xi, who succeeded Hu Jintao as party chief three weeks ago, acknowledge could threaten their rule.

The appointment of Wang Qishan, a capable administrator, as head of the party's internal disciplinary body was also seen as an indication of the new leadership's determination to eradicate corruption.

"I think it is possible that the new leaders want very much to tackle one of the most urgent issues," said Gu Su, a political analyst and constitutional law professor at Nanjing University.

Transparency International's state corruption index, released on Wednesday, again placed China well down the rankings - 80th out of 176 countries and down from 75th place last year. The report said Beijing scored just 39 out of a possible 100 points in the study.

However, in an editorial published yesterday, The Beijing News said the investigation of corrupt officials, including Li, showed the new leadership's resolve on the issue.

Gu said the campaign also appeared to be designed to win back public trust in government. "[Xi] has to do something to convince the public as he has spoken at length about tackling the issue," Gu said.

Most analysts, however, agreed that the latest graft-busting moves would do little to cure the epidemic unless the new leadership was also ready to embrace fundamental political reform and establish a democratic and transparent system.

"Historical experience has repeatedly suggested that relying on the anti-corruption commission or a handful of sincere leaders in this non-transparent process will never work," said Zhang Lifan , a political analyst formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Liu Kang, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University in the US state of North Carolina, said the latest campaign would not deal with the issue in any significant sense.

"Tougher action against a handful of corrupt officials cannot deal with the issue at all because corruption is systemic and thus stubborn," he said.