Keep politics out of anti-triad campaign

Beijing is right to crack down on gangsters at county and village level but it should be careful that this does not lead to political purges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 1:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 1:08am

President Xi Jinping’s first five-year term as Communist Party chief will be remembered for an anti-corruption campaign mainly targeting top officials. It proved very popular and has consolidated his power. The campaign is ultimately about shoring up the political legitimacy of one-party rule and, in that respect, it is far from over. Party leaders still deem corruption at grass-roots level a threat.

As a result, Beijing has kick-started an unprecedented nationwide anti-triad sweep to counter it. According to state media, the campaign, involving top party and government organs, is also aimed at reversing the erosion of public confidence in the leadership.

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Ever since the opening-up nearly 40 years ago, government control at grass-roots level and in the rural areas has often been undermined by corruption. The gangs control everything and the village chief is sometimes the local gangster boss.

If any further incentive is needed to crack down, it is that rampant corruption at county and village levels is seen as undermining Xi’s goal of lifting all the mainland’s citizens above the poverty line by 2020. A joint statement by the party’s Central Committee and the State Council said the anti-triad battle would help “smash flies”, referring to lower-level government officials.

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Even more critically for the party, it will strengthen its grip on power, because ultimately the biggest threat to its legitimacy would be loss of control at the local level. That said, even though the political motive in the anti-triad sweep is obvious, the worst thing the party could do is to allow political considerations to prevail.

Observers have already expressed concerns that Xi’s anti-triad campaign may share much in common with the crusade by disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai before his downfall in 2012. This was notorious for political motivation and for snaring thousands of officials, businesspeople and gangsters amid allegations of miscarriages of justice and forced confessions.

In the long run, such strike-hard campaigns have limitations. A more lasting solution may be found in improvements to the legal system to deter abuses of power and in greater transparency.