No surprise some are cynical about anti-graft efforts

President-to-be Xi Jinping will have a tough task tackling corruption involving family members of senior cadres

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 5:30am

"Resolutely ban children of senior cadres from engaging in business activities. This will start from members of the Politburo, its secretariat, and the executive committee of the State Council to avoid conflict of interest".

Just imagine how such a proclamation would go down with mainlanders who are increasingly angry and vocal about rampant corruption involving high-ranking officials and their immediate family members.

Will the new Communist Party leadership under Xi Jinping set an example? That's the question on the lips of many mainlanders.

Since he was designated as the president-to-be nearly one month ago, there have been high hopes that Xi will take the resolute steps needed to tackle corruption, which he says could doom the party and the state if not curbed.

Over the past month, hardly a day has passed without reports of officials being detained or sacked for corruption from Anhui to Xinjiang . Li Chuncheng, former deputy party secretary of Sichuan, has become the first deputy ministerial level official and the first alternate member of the new Central Committee to fall from grace because of corruption allegations.

Last week, the new Politburo moved to ban extravagance and reduce bureaucratic visits and meetings involving its 25 members as part of efforts to adopt a more down-to-earth work style and to win back trust of the people.

In his first inspection trip beyond Beijing, Xi set an example in Shenzhen where he avoided over-the-top ceremonies and tight security arrangements accorded to his predecessors, and displayed a common touch on his walkabouts.

This is all just normal to foreigners who are accustomed to Western politicians trying to mingle with the ordinary folks, but it is significant on the mainland.

Xi's predecessors, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, were usually fêted with extravagant receptions wherever they went, including welcome banners and red carpets, and double lanes cordoned off to traffic - all very ironical considering their much preached philosophy of putting the people first.

However, Xi's trip to Guangdong was not just about charming the people. The selection of Shenzhen as his first stop aimed to send a strong message that he would continue Deng Xiaoping's open-door policy. By contrast, when Hu came to power in 2002, his first trip beyond Beijing saw him pay homage to Xibaipo, a village in Hebei where Communist leaders established their base from 1947 to 1948.

While some mainlanders are heartened by Xi's efforts to fashion a new style and his promises to fight corruption, many can be forgiven for being sceptical.

For Xi to push ahead with reforms and tackle corruption, he needs to overcome fierce resistance from powerful vested interest groups who have profited immensely under the current system. Xi will first have to target the groups formed by the wives and children of senior cadres - probably the most difficult area to tackle in anti-corruption efforts.

Which brings us back to the proclamation quoted at the beginning of this article. It was part of a document released by the Politburo which appeared on the front page of the People's Daily in July 1989 - a few weeks after the government's bloody crackdown on the massive student demonstrations, where corruption was a key issue.

Graft involving the immediate family members of senior cadres is a form of corruption that makes the blood of mainlanders boil, and the mainland leadership knows that.

As early as 1985, the nation's leadership handed down rules banning spouses and children from engaging in their own business activities. The rules were amended in 1989 and amended again in 2001.

The issue is now more in focus as a result of a recent spate of allegations against family members of Premier Wen Jiabao , disgraced politician Bo Xilai, Ling Jihua - once Hu's most powerful aide - and even Xi's own family members.

Such allegations have tainted the reputation of the party leadership and left many mainlanders cynical about Xi's anti-corruption efforts. He has to address the issues properly.