Xi's graft crackdown likely to worsen problem, warns leading China expert
President Xi Jinping’s model of tackling corruption is only likely to worsen the problem and his repression of dissent further reveals the fragility of his regime, a leading China expert said on Friday.
Xi launched a high-profile anti-graft campaign when he became Communist Party chief in late 2012. He vowed to target “tigers” and “flies” – powerful as well as low-ranking officials, whose ill-gotten wealth he considered a threat to the party’s six-decade hold on power.
In recent months, dozens of officials have been investigated and arrested over alleged corruption. Associates and relatives of former security chief Zhou Yongkang, who is himself widely believed to be under official investigation, have also been targeted.
But Professor Perry Link, a sinologist at the University of California at Riverside, believes Xi’s campaign will only breed more corruption.
Instead of steering the country towards the rule of law, Xi wants “a Maoist authority to be in charge”, Link told the Post. He was visiting Hong Kong to attend a City University conference commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
“That kind of political model creates corruption,” he said, adding that if authorities target individuals for graft, the way such people gets out trouble is to bribe other officials.
“When personal authority is the ruling power, you can target graft and all that, but you’re creating corruption more than you’re getting rid of it,” he said.
Xi’s anti-graft campaign was bound to face difficulties because he must tackle a powerful elite class, Link noted.
During the past two decades, breakneck economic growth without checks on government power had produced a wealthy elite on the mainland who could trade their political power for money and influence.
“He can’t antagonise the whole of the elite class… like the mafia class, it will fight back,” Link said. “So where do you draw the line?”
Xi can hardly afford to probe too deeply into his own family and friends’ circles, he added. According to a Bloomberg report two years ago, Xi’s extended family had amassed assets worth US$376 million.
The fragility of the Xi regime was obvious by the way the authorities had pulled out all stops to suppress dissent, Link said. It is also demonstrated by the fact that many powerful officials and members of the elite were moving their children and money abroad, he added.
“Their own expressions of insecurity are so strong,” he said. “If they were confident of their power, they wouldn’t spend all that money on throwing people in jail… that speaks of their insecurity very loudly.”
Rights groups say that more than 200 activists have been detained or arrested since spring last year. This year, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, more than 30 activists, lawyers and scholars have been detained, arrested or placed under house arrest, according to Amnesty International.
Link said party leaders including Xi seemed to fear that “if you don’t repress, the boat might sink”. He also noted a nationalistic mentality emerging among leaders that, because China was now a powerful economy, “we can repress and get away with it”.
But the risk of repression of dissent, such as that seen over the past few decades – including the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and officials’ efforts to erase public memories of these events – “makes a country weaker” and leaves people “intellectually crippled,” Link said.