Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Beware of damage from nepotism

By Swaran Singh (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-01 08:25

Whether it is the Old Boys network in Japan, Bhai-Bhatijabaad in India, or guanxi in China, nepotism has been writ large in Asian societies.

The investigation into Zhou Yongkang's former aides and proteges, including his subordinates in Sichuan province and energy and security bodies, and a lot of his family members including his brothers Zhou Yuanqing and Zhou Yuanxing, his second wife Jia Xiaoye and his son Zhou Bin, makes the probe of Zhou the most sensational case in China since the "Gang of Four" trials in the early 1980s. People around Zhou are suspected of having made billions of yuan brokering deals including those for billionaire mafia don, Liu Han, who has already been sentenced for organized crimes and murder.

Like most Asian societies, Chinese prefer nepotism when forming their trusted circle. It is usual for senior officials to find positions for friends and family members. Inmost feudal traditions, family obligations take precedence over civil duties. Though most people would condemn nepotism many officials who disregard family interests and adhere strictly to official rules are accused of meiyou renqing wei (lacking human feelings).

The most prominent officials caught in the anti-corruption net before Zhou were Liu Zhijun who at the time was the Minister of Railways followed by the much-publicised trial of former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai. But the groundswell against corruption had been building for several years. This included conviction of China's richest tycoon and Chairman of Gome Electrical Appliances, Huang Guangyu in 2008, the former chairman of Chinese oil giant Sinopec, Chen Tonghai, in 2009.

As his message to his successors, former Chinese top leader Hu Jintao had warned that if the corruption issue was not addressed, it "could prove fatal to the Party, and even cause the collapse of the Party and the fall of the State." Hu had urged to bring to justice "whoever they are and whatever power or official position they have. "Now the Chinese leadership is taking this forward with unprecedented vigour and determination, cracking down on both "tigers" and "flies" meaning powerful leaders and lowly bureaucrats in the campaign against corruption.

Swaran Singh is professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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