Corruption in China

China should champion its anti-corruption success stories to fight the cynicism

Robert Klitgaard says inspiring accounts are the antidote to ignorance about anti-graft drives, as passion and discipline complement each other

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 December, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 December, 2016, 6:47pm

China is doubling down on fighting corruption. A major message of October’s Communist Party plenum was more discipline; punishment with tougher penalties and zero tolerance, regardless of position.

At an anti-corruption workshop in Yunnan last month, one leader put it this way: “Stricter supervision and criticism should make officials flush and sweat.”

Cynicism and ignorance are the enemies of reform. The antidote is success

Discipline is essential but insufficient. One must also attack cynicism and ignorance, which dissipate the passion for reform. One way to do so is to find success stories within China, document them, celebrate them, and use them to instruct and inspire.

Around the world, people are sceptical about their countries’ anti-corruption efforts. They have heard all the fine words before. They have watched laws multiply and regulations flourish. Citizens, officials and even leaders can become cynical. And many people are ignorant about fighting corruption. They are not aware that it can be reduced and has been reduced, even in situations where it is systemic.

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Cynicism and ignorance are the enemies of reform. The antidote is success; examples of real people and institutions making real progress. Success stories in reducing corruption include examples such as Singapore and more recent ones such as Georgia and the Philippines. There are also successes within China, including Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. These successes are not just about discipline, not just about tigers and flies being caught and punished. The party should look for examples of Chinese institutions – local, regional and national – that have successfully reduced abuses of power, for example in land, contracts, anti-poverty programmes, and food safety.

Without discipline, passion dissipates. Without passion, discipline can defeat itself

Once these success stories are identified (and verified by citizens), they should be studied carefully. Then, these stories should be shared with party members and citizens, the business community and the media.

The point is not so much to copy as to inspire. Examples of success can help defeat cynicism and overcome ignorance – and thereby illuminate discipline and rejuvenate the passion for reform.

As good teachers and parents know, discipline alone does not inspire. A few years ago, when I departed as dean of the graduate school at the Rand Corporation think tank, students presented me with a globe. On its stand were the words: “Changing the world through passion and discipline.”

Both are indeed needed. Without discipline, passion dissipates. Without passion, discipline can defeat itself.

Robert Klitgaard is a professor at Claremont Graduate University in California.