China’s anti-graft campaigners feel the love
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In China the second-most senior official of Sichuan, a province with 81 million inhabitants, has been accused of graft at a high-level anti-corruption meeting that finished in Beijing on Friday. But the ongoing anti-corruption drive is not about bribe-taking alone.
Sichuan governor Wei Hong has been accused of “severe disciplinary violations”, a term often used for corruption. A senior anti-graft official, Wu Yuliang, said Wei was “reflecting on his mistakes”.
Wei is said to have been close to China’s one-time security tsar Zhou Yunkang and Bo Xilai, the former party secretary of neighbouring Chongqing municipality, who both were sentenced to life in prison for corruption in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
If found guilty, Wei Hong may face the same sentence, or worse.
“Strict governing is a form of deep love and curing illnesses is done to save people’s lives," declared a statement issued after last week's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) meeting, which chiefly discussed graft and corruption.
It stressed that “disciplinary departments [within the Chinese Communist Party] have a crucial role to play in educating the majority by punishing a minority”.
"Corruption is genuinely endemic in the Chinese system and therefore they have a serious problem with it,” says Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute of the University of Nottingham.
“This latest anti-corruption campaign started when Xi Jinping became the leader of China in November 2012. But it is not so much about anti-corruption as it is about party rectification," Tsang says.
China has been a one-party state since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power in 1949. The CCP does not tolerate any other independent political entity.
“They also do not have an independent judiciary or genuinely independent anti-corruption organisation to deal with it,” says Tsang.
“Therefore it does not really enjoy a kind of popular support that for example Hong Kong enjoyed when it attempted its own anti-corruption drive back in the 1970s. Within one decade Hong Kong cleaned up corruption, very effectively. We are not going to see that in China.".
The anti-corruption drive is also linked to politics.
"Earlier this month, some Chinese commentators were suggesting that the current anti-corruption campaign might be coming to an end,” says Michael Dillon, the author of several books on China.
“Now this three-day meeting in Beijing makes it absolutely clear that this won’t be happening. Xi Jinping wants to continue it, to deepen it. And he wants to move away from what they call 'the Tigers', the big hitters in the party centre, down to local officials.
“So here we have one local official, being a senior local official who is under investigation, although he is just 'reflecting on his mistakes' as they say, but I think it is probably just a matter of time."
Dillon thinks targeting lower-level officials will be quite popular, since if they are corrupt their actions directly harm the local population.
But by and large China's leader needs a corruption-free party when he wants to stay in power.
"Xi Jinping is a hard-core Leninist,” says Steve Tsang, “and he believes as a Leninist that the Communist Party is the most effective instrument for running and governing China and controlling the rest of the country.
“And for the party to function effectively is this Leninist instrument, it cannot be too corrupt. And therefore, while Xi Jinping is still consolidating his control over the country through the party, he has to sustain the anti-corruption drive."
The CCDI currently has 47 inspection teams making the rounds of various party branches.
Up till now 14,000 members of the 80-million-strong Communist Party have faced legal proceedings as a result of “discipline violations” in 2015.
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