The China Corruption Conspiracy

Xi Jinping became the seventh President of the People’s Republic of China in 2013 Central to his policies was his pledge to rid the Communist Party and the Chinese government of corruption

Four years later, China has purged thousands of corrupt officials from its ranks But there may be more to this campaign than it first appears Critics say the punishments meted out are not severe enough, and far too few officials are being caught What’s more, the legality of the investigations is highly controversial Is Xi Jinping's crusade against corruption a genuine attempt to clean up China? Or is he using it for other purposes? China’s problem with corruption goes back decades

Economic reforms since 1978 saw the privatisation of various state-controlled industries and increased investment from abroad However, local economies are still heavily dependent on state planning and the approval of government officials As a result, bribery is widespread, as corporations and criminals alike buy government support Sometimes businesses have to pay local officials just to keep their doors open The full extent of bribery is unknown, but at least tens of billions of dollars have exchanged hands over the years

A water-supply official in a resort town near Beijing amassed nearly $200 million; General Xu Caihou was caught with 10 truckloads of priceless art and over 1 ton of cash hidden in his house; and the national police chief, Zhou Yongkang, had $16 billion in assets seized by the government The rate of corruption varies depending on industry and geography, but it’s typically between 20 and 43 percent President Xi Jinping promised to expose all corrupt officials at every level – both the tigers and the flies, as he called them He tasked the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection with this mission The CCDI investigates abuses of power in the Communist Party, which has 88 million members

Over one million Party officials have been disciplined since Xi came to power, and China’s score on Transparency International’s Corruption Index has improved However, the CCDI’s methods are highly secretive and very controversial Because it is an independent body, it can collect evidence and punish individuals without oversight by the judicial system The CCDI also practices the top secret process of shanggui Despite officially following the rule that suspects are innocent until proven guilty, when someone is taken into shanggui, they are typically presumed guilty

‘Shanggui’ is an order to report at a specific time and place Human Rights Watch says it is another word for torture Suspects are held in padded, windowless rooms They can either sit or stand, but must do so for 12 hours straight One man claims he was kept awake for 23 hours a day, forced to stand up with a book balanced on his head

After eight days, he confessed to anything they wanted This evidence is then used to prosecute suspects in the courts Some judges have thrown out this evidence But disturbingly, it seems that in some cases of torture, state prosecutors are directly involved Sentences range from imprisonment to execution

At least 11 people have died during the shuanggui process There is something odd about the people passed on for prosecution by the CCDI Of the 74 million party members who work in government, 750,000 were disciplined for corruption in the first three years of the CCDI’s campaign Analysis by the Financial Times shows that of those 750,000 people, only 36,000 were prosecuted in the courts

The rest simply received a slap on the wrist The statistics show a curious pattern that exactly 10% of workers have been disciplined for corruption, and exactly 05% are actually tried and punished by the legal system What’s more, a heavily publicised documentary about the corrupt officials caught by the campaign aired in January 2017; and the CCDI has unusually broken decades of protocol to make numerous public statements on the progress of the campaign The statistics and the publicity of the purge have led Chinese academics to wonder whether the whole campaign is a stunt to hide an ulterior purpose

Hong Kong University’s Social Science Professor Ding Xueliang says the campaign is a half-hearted display He says local governments are just punishing an arbitrary number of their employees to make it look like they’re tackling corruption Professor Ding estimates that around 80% of officials have engaged in some form of corruption; so that suspicious figure of only one in ten being disciplined is a deliberate decimation Law Professor Fu Hualing agrees, arguing that President Xi has no real intention of fighting corruption at a grassroots level If he did, the chaos it would cause could do huge harm to the government and, by extension, the economy

Already studies suggest that Xi’s fight against corruption has contributed to the Chinese economy slowing down, as politicians are reluctant to support new businesses or expand existing ones for fear of the CCDI This may explain why the government raised the threshold for how large a bribe has to be to incur prosecution Instead, critics claim Xi’s main purpose is to consolidate his power Most of the officials removed, imprisoned or executed are rivals to Xi, or at least had a history of acting independently Xi is considered the most powerful leader of China since the 1980s and is often described as the core of their political system

Not only is he President, but he is the General Secretary of the Communist Party and commander of the military, which he reportedly likes to take control of personally He also appointed his close friend Wang Qishan as the head of the CCDI, who in turn appointed his close allies to run it In effect, the ‘independent’ investigators answer to Xi Jinping Perhaps more worryingly, growing numbers of CCDI staff are being promoted to other branches of government The people accused of enforcing President Xi’s authority are now drafting Chinese policy, too

So far, Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has been limited to the Chinese Communist Party In January 2017, the government announced the creation of a new National Supervision Commission This will absorb the CCDI and have the power to investigate all public sector workers from every party at every level It will begin its work soon after President Xi is re-elected to his second and final term in late 2017 On the one hand, this expansion of the campaign may be necessary to tackle widespread corruption

On the other hand, it may be the beginning of an even more authoritarian Chinese regime

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