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What ‘Tigers’ Will Fall to China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign in 2015?

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What ‘Tigers’ Will Fall to China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign in 2015?

Previewing China’s anti-corruption efforts in the Year of the Sheep.

What ‘Tigers’ Will Fall to China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign in 2015?
Credit: Xi Jinping image from Kaliva / Shutterstock

2014 was undoubtedly an important year for anti-corruption. Last year, to my surprise, I wrote 25 blog pieces about anti-corruption, but sadly Wang Qishan, secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, didn’t give me a prize. Looking back at my old pieces, let’s see if the anti-corruption campaign in 2014 lived up to my hopes from the beginning of last year. I also want to look at what hopes we should hold for anti-corruption in 2015. Of course, I’ll also answer the question that made you click on this blog piece in the first place: what “tigers” will be caught in 2015?

From my blog articles in 2014, we can roughly follow the progress of the anti-corruption campaign in 2014. This was the impression I got from anti-corruption in 2014: the strength of the anti-corruption campaign went beyond my expectations from the beginning of 2014. The “tigers” caught last year broke records, whether viewed in terms of the sheer number or in terms of their rank. Chinese people took immense pleasure in spreading the news, but they weren’t satisfied – in fact, they only became more dissatisfied. Although there have been some early steps toward institutional anti-corruption, there’s still a certain gap between progress and the hopes of the public.

Before an anti-corruption system with the participation of the people is established and perfected, each ousted “tiger” will certainly make the people more confident in the current government – but at the same time, it will raise more doubts about the system that produced such severe corruption. In 2014, the dreams of a minority of corrupt officials were shattered, but the dreams of most ordinary people still haven’t come true. And in 2015? Here are my predictions, according to the following keywords:

Gaps. The myth that you can’t punish high-ranking people has already been dispelled, but I don’t dare to predict whether the anti-corruption efforts in 2015 will continue to extend upward. In 2014, anti-corruption extended to almost every corner, but some people discovered that there were still gaps that went untouched — like the “princelings” or high-ranking patrons working behind the scenes. Based on the anti-corruption campaign’s progress in 2014, I think that those corrupt officials hiding behind the scenes or in the gaps must be quite terrified.

Flies. Although everyone has their eyes fixed on a few dozen “tigers,” they have ignored the nearly 200,000 flies that have been “swatted” in the past two years. Still, for most ordinary Chinese, the harm from corrupt “flies” is everywhere. The fall of a few dozen high-ranking officials can frighten the other tigers into laying low for a while, but these 200,000 flies are only a drop in the ocean. We can rely on CCDI to beat the tigers, but what about the flies? We can’t have the CCDI be everywhere, like the Gestapo or the KGB. While institutional anti-corruption is still on the way, the most effective method for swatting flies is public participation, including anti-corruption efforts from netizens and oversight from the media. But both of these areas regressed in 2014.

Power struggle. Looking at the headlines from China’s major news outlets, readers might be led to think that the whole anti-corruption campaign is a power struggle. Some samples: “The relationships of recently caught tiger X,” “X corrupt official was a supporter, follower of tiger Y.” This sort of news obviously leads people’s thoughts in one way. But in fact, Chinese officialdom is complicated and inter-connected; once someone reaches a certain rank, we can find a convoluted path linking him or her to pretty much anyone. Moreover, with such large-scale anti-corruption, there has to be a breakthrough point – and who among corrupt officials doesn’t love power? Under these circumstances, even though the earliest anti-corruption efforts truly did have elements of a power struggle, we shouldn’t ignore the facts: the anti-corruption campaign has already surpassed a mere power struggle. It had to. Anti-corruption is already on its way and there’s no going back; there’s no need to make things too complicated.

Institutions. Institutional anti-corruption has always been a major issue. It must be said that a system of various anti-corruption regulations started to be “quietly” established within Party, government, and army departments in 2014 (“quietly” because they can’t be publicized, just like family matters). These regulations have had some effect, but at the legal and institutional level we still have a long way to go. For example, if the time isn’t right for officials to publicly declare their assets, there should at least be a deadline or a transitional policy that requires newly-promoted cadres to declare their assets. Speaking of institutional anti-corruption, in the last century we’ve really only seen a few kinds: the institutional anti-corruption of North Korea and Mao Zedong; the democratic institutional anti-corruption used by most Western countries; and the legal anti-corruption activities carried out without democracy in places like Singapore and Hong Kong. Which one will Beijing choose? And which one do you want to choose?

Reform. Anti-corruption is important, but reform is more important. Without establishing institutional anti-corruption, anti-corruption will only make the people happy for a while – and the pain that will follow will be even deeper. Reform is different; it directly touches our lives and work. Comparatively speaking, the reforms proposed by this administration, especially the 60 articles on economic reform, are more clearly defined than the goals of anti-corruption. However, we’ve also seen great achievements in anti-corruption while it’s the various reform projects that have progressed more slowly. Of course, we can’t expect to see instant results from reform, including economic reform, but we also can’t rule out another possibility: there’s great resistance to reform. As I’ve said before, if the anti-corruption campaign isn’t strong enough, there will be absolutely no way to push forward reforms; there will be no way to move the “cheese” of vested interest groups.

Rule of law. I have to mention this – I can’t have one eye open and the other closed. On one hand, we praise the rule of law, but on the other hand there’s no way to implement the “rule of law” when fighting corruption, and sometimes we even break the law. Of course, as I’ve repeatedly stressed, when the forces of corruption are so rampant and entrenched, establishing anti-corruption institutions is extremely difficult. It may be that only using harsh measures against corrupt officials will make it so that others won’t dare to be corrupt and won’t dare to obstruct the implementation of anti-corruption institutions and reforms. But everything is a matter of degrees. When it comes to institutional anti-corruption in 2015, I don’t have the highest of hopes. But at least we can consider Hong Kong’s anti-corruption institutions, especially the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Can CCDI and the anti-corruption bureaus develop into something like Hong Kong’s  ICAC?

Tigers. Alright, it’s time to answer the final question: Will 2015 bring the arrests of more and bigger tigers? The answer: Yes. Of course, the biggest “tiger” is the institution that created so many corrupt officials — this “tiger” must be caught.

This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.