Opinion / 首页Blog

Is corruption the price of doing business in China?

By lexalee ( Updated: 2014-07-21 17:24

There has been so much news of corruption among government officials, businessmen, and media in China that I've wondered if the ethical population is actually a minority. In a society where impartiality bows to guanxi and people cultivate guanxi by giving gifts, it's not difficult to justify doing it as “the price of business” and a fact of life in China. The point is that it's everywhere and everyone does it, so it must be ok, right? People who don't pay up don't get ahead. That's the prevailing attitude, and that's why corruption in China is so difficult to root out. Citizens complain about it but participate in it at the same time.

Once you start taking gifts from some people, you start expecting them from everyone. If you buy favors with gifts, you expect to do it, and you become part of the problem. If there's no gift, bribe, or relationship, things that should get done don't get done. That's no way to run a country.

President Xi has promised to go all-out against on corruption. The cost on the Chinese economy and society may be heavier than anyone ever expected, since the problem is so pervasive, with tentacles everywhere. But costly as it may be, the war is necessary. The leadership must not let up, or things will return to business as usual and people will say Xi was just paying lip service to the problem, as past leaders have.

Western news reports about China are being dominated by corruption, pollution, cheating, hacking, and territorial disputes. Obviously, this scenario is not one that will generate what China so desperately wants - respect from other countries, especially more developed nations. Many Westerners, as well as Chinese themselves, have the idea that China can't be trusted - but if Xi stops his campaign, that would just reinforce domestic as well as international distrust. He has to bite the bullet and show his own people as well as foreigners he's serious, and carry on.

Somewhere in the mix must be more clear-cut regulations and an understanding, appreciation, and enforcement of laws instead of what's been a murky pool of guanxi. Less discussed but equally important, citizens must themselves accept that they cannot buy special favors with personal connections or bribes. While no country will ever be entirely rid of corruption, it must not be the default scenario - especially in a country that wants international respect. Advancement should depend on credentials and performance. Xi needs to be the role model who sets a good example to his people. The prize of his war against corruption will be a better, more egalitarian society and an honorable place among world powers.

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