Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Taking corruption by the horns

By G.Venkat Raman (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-13 08:11

Xi's clean governance campaign has yielded positive results but institutional measures are needed so officials put people first

One of the most widely discussed issues since Xi Jinping assumed China's leadership has been his call for a war on corruption. On becoming president, Xi launched a one-year "mass line" in June with special emphasis on the war against corruption, which included measures to curb red tape and improve the Party's work style to bring officials closer to the people. So how has the anti-corruption drive fared in the past year?

Anti-corruption drives are not new to China, but Xi's crusade seems different from earlier ones, and there are several reasons for this. First, as some scholars have argued, as the son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the first generation revolutionaries, Xi has a lot more at stake in terms of enhancing and reaffirming the leadership of the Party. And having envisioned the China Dream, he needs to convey to the people that he is serious about tackling the scourge of corruption.

Second, having taken over the leadership from Hu Jintao, who set forth the "Scientific Outlook on Development", Xi has made it clear that the leap made from "economic governance" to "social governance" is an irreversible political development, and the anti-corruption drive is an indispensable component of social governance. The reason: corruption in China, like in any other country, distorts the allocation of State resources leading to inequality of opportunity which breeds political and social discontent.

The anti-corruption drive, aimed at both high-level "tigers" and lower-level "flies", has drawn a mixed response. While some are not optimistic about it, others call it an encouraging beginning in a fight that will be a long one because of the sheer complexity of the issue. To get the right perspective, we need to analyze the larger picture.

To begin with, China is battling with two types of corruption-political corruption (corruption in various levels of the State) and commercial bribery-and sometimes it is very difficult to differentiate between the two. For instance, some observers say political corruption in the post-reform era started when undervalued State assets were transferred to the private sector and the scramble for windfall profits commenced with privatization.

Xi probably wanted to stress this aspect of corruption when he targeted the rampant collusion between some officials and businesses. At a meeting, he reminded some officials from Jiangsu province of a Chinese proverb, "the friendship of a gentleman is as insipid as water", implying that officials should not collude with businesses for personal or official gains.

Closely related to this aspect of corruption is another practice in China that allows Party officials to become business executives in State-owned enterprises which leads to conflicts of interests.

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