On October 18th, 2017, the Communist Party of China (CPC) will hold its 19th National Congress to determine the members of its Central Political Bureau and establish its direction for the next five years. Simultaneously, one of the focal points of media discussion involves the Anti-corruption Campaign.
China’s Anti-corruption Campaign began five years ago under the previous National Congress and was carried out by the Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of CPC (CCDI), Wang Qishan. According to CCDI Wechat Public Account data from October 7, 2017, over 280 “middle level” [province level, ministry level, vice national level] cadres, 8,600 bureau-level cadres and 66,000 county-level cadres were examined and sentenced within the five years. And nearly 2 million members of CPC have been punished due to corruption-related issues. Though the effects of this Chinese Anti-corruption Campaign are still not clear, the campaign poses the unprecedented potential to change the track of China’s future.
CCDI data clearly demonstrates the severity of corruption within CPC. According to the Reuters, as Wang Qishan said, “Carrying out an operation on yourself to cure an illness is world class hard.” And he’s not exaggerating in saying this. The Epoch Times reports Qishan has survived at least twenty-seven assassination attempts since taking charge of CCDI. Fortunately, Deputy Director of Peking University’s Clean Government Centre, Zhuang Deshui, told South China Morning Post, “Since the 18th party congress, most of the problematic high-flying officials have been eradicated. The officials who remain have either passed the test or been newly promoted by the top leader.” The high-level politicians deeply involved in corruption seem to be always cleared, and thus, China is ready for the next stage of reform.
However, the Chinese Anti-corruption Campaign is, nonetheless, controversial. According to Human Rights Watch, CPC’s “shuanggui” detention system is illegal due to its numerous torture methods: prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. The corruption and impulse for justice actually covers the injustice human rights violations during the investigation, highlighting the deep-rooted problem within the system. In addition, while we should acknowledge that some corrupt politicians are dismissed from their positions, the overall effectiveness of the Anti-corruption Campaign is lacklustre. As Transparency International reported, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of China has remained poor these five years (2012: 39; 2013: 40; 2014: 36; 2015: 37; 2016: 40). The Chinese rank of CPI is 79th worldwide in 2016. According to the report by Business Anti-Corruption Portal in 2016, the corruption surrounding the judicial system, police, public services, land and other fields is still serious. The Anti-corruption Campaign has already received a lot of criticism on its latent damage to the financial investment, commercial development and economic growth. More importantly, according to South China Morning Post, Prof. Andrew Wedeman, Georgia State University commented, “[President Xi Jinping] now faces the possibility of having to take out people he selected and promoted … [which] might be seen as a sign that he failed to adequately screen them before selecting them, or that they were not deterred by the anti-corruption campaign and Xi’s vows to eradicate corruption.” The Anti-corruption Campaign is just trying to make up for a mistake, without fixing the original cause of corruption.
There are two opposing voices about where this Anti-corruption Campaign will lead. On the one hand, Gao Wenqian, on Human Rights in China, argues, “What is foreseeable is that, within the next five years, the political situation in China will go backwards on an enormous scale, thus bringing the country back into the Ice Age. The authorities will exert control in every aspect, including expression, culture, and society. To put it in another way, the authorities will maintain stability by muting, deafening, and blinding people and putting everyone ‘on the grid.’” It is suspected that, although President Xi Jinping will hold more power within CPC through the Anti-corruption Campaign, he will also be constrained by power. The Anti-corruption Campaign has turned the stakeholders to be against him, and as long as he decides to decentralize the power to push political reform, they may fight back to revenge.
On the other hand, according to the Epoch Times, Xi Jinping may push anti-corruption campaign reform, eventually decentralizing the power to achieve political reform. It is sure that the current China is prevented from a potential national splitting due to its lopsided regime and deep corruption; however, we still don’t know Xi Jinping’s blueprint for the country at this stage. Regardless, these perspectives outline the core hidden behind this problem.
How to transparently and accountably monitor the political structure in China to ultimately benefit the Chinese people is the key question regarding the current Anti-corruption Campaign. From the investigations of the corrupt politicians, the torture methods appear to be common, and though some scholars contend that the “shuanggui” system can avoid the disclosure of classified information and the fleeing of the corrupted politicians, China should uphold the 1986 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act. To deepen reform and protect human rights, NCI should develop the systematical and transparent procedure during the anti-corruption actions.
However, another issue is NCI’s is potential to become the most powerful institution in China, without an institution to supervise it. It may intervene with Xi Jinping’s power and change public policy in the future. Hence, there is a dilemma that, in order to alleviate corruption and benefit Chinese people, the radical political reform in the future is required to confine the power of NCI. How to deepen political reform and prevent China from turbulence and harm to people should be the priority of the list of political considerations.