Corruption in China has been a longstanding truth that remains today. In 2013 the PRC was ranked 80th out of 178 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruption Preceptions Index. Since the 1980s widespread surveys have been carried out to the public and have shown that corruption represents one of the top concerns of the general public. However, as China has come to encounter a new phase of its developing process, that of slowing growth rates, it became apparent that it could no longer afford corruption of such exorbitant numbers. Therefore, according to some, a new era in the battle against corruption has preceded with the appointment of Xi Jinping as the country’s new president. Xi has declared a corruption purge across Chinese institutions that would seemingly spare no highly-ranked senior official.
Over the years, many scandals of corruption were revealed, one more appalling than the other. One of the most ghastly revelations entailed Zhou Yongkang, a retired senior leader of the Communist Party of China. As a member of the 17th Politburo Standing Committee as well as Secretary of the Central Political and Legislative Committee he was quite the influential man. He was expelled from the CCP and he will be tried for taking bribes, committing adultery and leaking state secrets. The fact that any action was taken against such a senior official of the Party is highly unusual business in China. He was the most senior official since 1949 that has been charged with such allegations. His case thus marks a turning point for many Chinese in the fight against corruption in China.
These radical reforms are likely to be far from the Party’s interest and thus Xi’s anti-corruption campaign may serve as on the one hand a distraction from the economy and on the other the elimination of political opposition to his reforms.
Despite the good hopes following from this, Xi’s policy, crowned with the slogan: ‘catching the flies and beating the tigers’, has also been the target of wide criticism questioning in the first place the effectiveness of his policy but also, and more importantly, the genuineness of his plans. Accusations of selective prosecution and lack of transparency play first fiddle. A lot of proof is found that Xi has been very selective and careful in beating his ‘tigers’. Until now, Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang represent the only senior officials that have faced trial. Call it a coincidence or not, but both of them were political rivals of Xi. It seems that most of Xi’s targets are low to middle ranking officials, with a clear majority in people politically opposing him as most other prosecuted officials were affiliates of either Bo or Zhou.
Another argument often referred to by critics is Xi’s wish to implement radical economic reforms, including a revision of the one-child policy and reformation of the taxation and state-owned enterprises system, to reinvigorate China’s economy. These radical reforms are likely to be far from the Party’s interest and thus Xi’s anti-corruption campaign may serve as on the one hand a distraction from the economy and on the other the elimination of political opposition to his reforms. In that way his objectives to purge the Party and resuscitate the economy are complementary and interdependent. However, despite that fact that Xi has certainly obtained enough Machiavellian power, he has not yet succeeded in the building of a political coalition for his objectives.
In contrast, there can be found a bright side. Although Xi’s has so far perhaps not been able to target all key actors in the game of corruption, what he has succeeded in is spreading fear. In 2014, the rate of suicides committed by government officials reached a highpoint. Officials realize that the practice and perhaps culture of corruption is so deeply entangled in both business and politics, that almost any of them run the risk of being a target of Xi’s investigation. This also spreads to the younger generation, as less and less youngsters aspire a government career. So Xi might not put all of today’s most dangerous tigers down, but he might just prevent the birth of new ones.