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article imageRed handed: Xi's anti-graft campaign set to roll on

By Ben Dooley (AFP)     Oct 19, 2017 in Politics

In the past five years, Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign has steamrolled over 1.5 million crooked Communist Party officials. And it may just be getting started.

Addressing the twice-a-decade gathering of the Communist Party's leadership Wednesday, China's most powerful leader in a generation pledged he would continue to show "no tolerance for corruption".

Xi, who is set to secure a second five-year term as party chief during the congress, said the country must intensify its efforts to combat the "symptoms and root causes" of graft.

"Corruption is the greatest threat our party faces," he told an audience of more than 2,300 delegates in Beijing, adding that the party must have "strength and tenacity to persevere in the never-ending fight".

The speech followed an announcement last Saturday that the 205-person Central Committee had expelled 12 senior members, including former justice minister Wu Aiying.

The campaign to clean up the country's ubiquitous corruption has been Xi's most visible and arguably most popular initiative, pressuring the party's 89 million members to toe the line.

Over the past five years it has brought down officials at all levels of government, from low-level "flies" to high-ranking "tigers", and even extended overseas to bring back "foxes" that have fled abroad.

- Fallen rivals -

While it has been a long-needed corrective to a system rife with graft, the campaign has also served as a weapon for Xi to eliminate his adversaries and consolidate his political power.

The ranks of the fallen include some of the president's most formidable political rivals, such as the former minister of state security Zhou Yongkang.

A more recent target was Sun Zhengcai -- the ex-party secretary of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing -- who was once tipped as a contender for the party's highest office in 2022 but was expelled from its ranks last month.

China's corruption campaign has only punished around 1.5 percent of the party's total memb...
China's corruption campaign has only punished around 1.5 percent of the party's total membership so far, leaving plenty of room to target the country's endemic lower-level corruption.
WANG Zhao, AFP

All told, Xi has knocked out around 11 percent of the Central Committee which comprises the "most powerful people in China", according to Trey McArver, founder of Beijing-based research firm Trivium China.

Still, the campaign has only punished around 1.7 percent of the party's total membership so far, leaving plenty of room to target the country's endemic lower-level corruption.

"The campaign is going to be further institutionalised" during Xi's second term, McArver said.

"Now, you're seeing a lot more enforcement of less egregious violations," he said, adding that "we're still seeing increased investigations."

The campaign has been very successful at prosecuting past acts of corruption, but it now needs to focus on preventing them, said Chen Daoyin, a Shanghai-based expert on Chinese politics.

"It has only reached the stage where officials don't dare to be corrupt, it hasn't yet made it impossible for them," he said.

- Right-hand man -

One major step in that direction is the expected establishment of a new anti-graft agency, the National Supervisory Commission, that will coordinate investigations at all levels of government and expand their remit to include non-party members.

While the reorganisation could expand anti-corruption efforts, it may also make them less brutally efficient: the current crusade has heavily relied on the party's shadowy, extralegal internal justice system known as "shuanggui".

This tool will be phased out under the new system, Xi said in his speech Wednesday, to be replaced with a new legal mechanism.

Xi's right-hand man  Wang Qishan  has received the bulk of the credit for managing the country&...
Xi's right-hand man, Wang Qishan, has received the bulk of the credit for managing the country's systematic and ruthless drive against crooked politicians and bureaucrats.
WANG Zhao, AFP

One outstanding question is who will head up the new system.

Xi's right-hand man, Wang Qishan, has received the bulk of the credit for managing the country's systematic and ruthless drive against crooked politicians and bureaucrats.

But now the 69-year-old ex-mayor of Beijing may be forced to step down under an unofficial party rule setting the retirement age at 68.

Wang has "made it very clear that he wants to institutionalise the campaign," McArver said, adding that he is likely "setting things up to make it easy for his successor to succeed".

But Chen believes that Xi's enforcer will likely head the new anti-corruption organisation to ensure that the effort gets "direct guidance from the highest leaders".

- Divisive campaign -

Despite its success, the campaign has also been "very divisive," said Willy Lam, a China expert at University of Hong Kong, making Xi a "tremendous number of enemies within the party and the PLA (People's Liberation Army)".

Chinese President Xi Jinping Xi has made a 'tremendous number of enemies within the Party and t...
Chinese President Xi Jinping Xi has made a 'tremendous number of enemies within the Party and the PLA' through his anti-graft crackdowns, one analyst warned
WANG ZHAO, AFP

It has also paralysed decision making at many levels of government, because officials "err on the side of caution", he said.

"If Xi were to go further, this might boomerang on him."

While it is true Xi's crusade may have made many enemies, it has also created new allies, Trivium's McArver said.

"For every official that gets taken down, another official gets promoted."

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