How Serious Is Xi Jinping About Tackling Corruption in China?

The new president has made curbing government excess a central part of his ideology. But how much will he be able to achieve?
xicorruptionbanner.jpgEvan Vucci/AP

Roderick MacFarquhar:

Xi Jinping's overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China's senior leader. Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't want to be remembered in history as the Gorbachev of China. To that end he will keep the PLA leadership close to him, as "lips and teeth." And he is unlikely to permit greater political liberalization--reversing the verdicts on June 4 for example--which might contribute to a loss of party control over the population.

What his aim also means is that he cannot have a thorough-going anti-corruption drive that could target his senior colleagues and their cronies. A few egregious cases that become public may have to be prosecuted and Bo Xilai is a special case--though even there the delay in bringing him to trial shows how cautious the leadership is when it comes to members of the Politburo--but it is highly likely that the main targets of the drive will only be middle- to lower-ranking officials.

Winston Lord:

I will keep this very brief for two reasons.

First, I am totally focused on Wimbledon and the purges of Federer and Nadal while I am here in London. Second, Rod has expressed my views precisely.

Xi has to make some progress on corruption, because it is the biggest threat to his highest priority, as underlined by Rod: the control of the Communist Party. So we will continue to see a concerted drive against against Rolexes, Mercedes, shark's fin soup and mistresses, a bevy of attacks on minnows and tuna, and a few against symbolic whales. What we will not see, for Rod's reasons plus Party control of the courts and media, is wrestling with the core problem.

Bill Bishop:

In April Mr. Xi, in his capacity as chairman of the Central Military Commission, approved an order requiring officers to spend time every few years down in the ranks as common soldiers. A commentary on the policy in the Chinese army's newspaper reminded readers that in 1958 Mao Zedong called for every cadre to spend one month a year as a common soldier. These continuing campaigns to "change work styles" and curb corruption are not going away anytime soon, much to the chagrin of luxury purveyors and high-end food and beverage businesses.

Beijing knows that public anger over corruption is high. An incident last Friday is just one example. A minor local official in Jiangsu Province was seen at an expensive banquet and then harassed and prevented from leaving by an angry mob. He cried and pleaded for forgiveness but was able to depart only after the police arrived. He was fired Sunday.

Beijing knows that public anger over corruption is high.

The party is trying to harness popular anger against graft by allowing some oversight online, either through the microblogging site Weibo or the official "informant pages." It is also very cognizant of the risk that things could spiral out of control, so it will keep a tight grip over public participation in the anti-corruption campaign, hence the crackdown on the nti-corruption campaigners agitating outside the system.

Few outside observers believe corruption can be rooted out without broader political changes, but Mr. Xi appears determined to push this current crackdown farther than most believed.

President Xi inherited many challenges, including but not limited to: a troubled economy; a growing debt mess; widespread corruption in the party and society in general; and a huge environmental crisis. Combine those challenges with what looks to be a very significant economic reform agenda that will affect many powerful interests across society, and it may be that the logical response from the party is to batten down the ideological hatches, rectify the party, strengthen control over the military, and increase oversight of the media (especially the Internet) and educational institutions before undertaking those jarring economic changes.

ChinaFile is an online magazine published by Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. 

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