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Aseries of anti-corruption cases, many exposed by new media, have hit the headlines since the 18th Party Congress elected a new leadership in November. While observers say China's fast-growing online community is becoming increasingly influential in fighting corruption, they attribute the recent cases, some of them high profile, to the new leadership's determination to root out corruption.
Their views have gained strength also from the fact that in his first speech as the newly elected ruling party leader and head of the country's military, Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of weeding out corruption from society, and Wang Qishan, known as the "fire brigade captain" for his problem-solving and crisis-handling capacity, was named to lead China's top anti-corruption body.
Some of the new leadership's working style have been welcomed by the people, which includes banning welcome banners, red carpets, flowers and grand receptions for visiting officials. These new norms have left people wondering whether they are the beginning of an all-out war against corruption.
The case of Lei Zhengfu serves as an apt example of change. Lei, former Party chief of Chongqing municipality's Beibei district, was sacked on Nov 23, only 63 hours after a video showing him and his mistress in a compromising position was uploaded on the Internet. Lei's case also shows that an increasing number of Chinese people are using weibo and other social networks to expose and fight corruption.
A recent Beijing Times report said the number of anti-corruption cases exposed online has been steadily increasing over the past few years. The fact that news stories, especially corruption scandals involving officials, spread so fast on the Internet could indicate some people are losing trust in governments. But before reaching such a conclusion, it is worth noting a controversial issue.
An overwhelming number of recent corruption cases involve sex, prompting some experts to argue that officials should also be punished for accepting sex as a "bribe". But Chinese law has no provision for "sexual bribery". According to the Criminal Law, bribes given to government officials refer to money, property and other materials.
Sex, however, serves the same purpose as money or property in corruption scandals. At times, women are hired as mistresses of or paid to have sex with officials. In one case, for example, 63,000 yuan ($10,112) was paid to a woman, which prompted Cao Shouye, deputy-director of the research department of the Supreme People's Court, to write in his blog that such amounts should be taken into account while handing down punishment to corrupt officials.
Some people doubt governments' ability to fight corruption because many local governments don't announce their moves timely and transparently while handling a crisis or responding to public demand. For example, people praised Chongqing's discipline authorities for responding to Lei's case swiftly, but Zhu Ruifeng, a Beijing-based journalist who uploaded Lei's sex tape on the Internet, said it was an insider of Chongqing police who leaked the video to him. In fact, Zhu learned that the local discipline authorities had seized the video footage long ago and even told BBC so.
Interestingly, Zhu claims to have similar tapes involving four high-ranking Chongqing officials who are still in office. He said in the interview to BBC that he wanted to be absolutely sure about the identities of the officials in the videos before releasing them.
This raises two questions. Why haven't the Chongqing discipline authorities shown the same efficiency that they exhibited in Lei's case, especially because all the tapes were shot in 2007? And how could Zhu be sure that the tapes he has involve four officials when he hasn't checked them thoroughly?
In the Internet age, it is necessary for people to exercise and strengthen their supervision rights. But they should not take over government departments' functions, otherwise online supervision will suffer.
To fight corruption and prevent Internet users from taking over their functions, governments, especially discipline authorities, should adopt concrete measures to respond to online exposes and fight corruption. For example, local Party discipline committees can monitor officials' activities regularly and set up a database of their findings.
These investigation results can be used to answer many of the questions raised by the public in case a corruption scandal breaks out. The facts can also be used to intensify further investigations.
With the Internet becoming more sophisticated and potent, it is time the government accelerated its efforts to meet the challenges of fighting corruption.
The author is a reporter with China Daily. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 12/31/2012 page8)