Without democracy, Xi Jinping cannot defeat corruption
by Chen Weijun
China's new Communist ruler plans to ask the Central Commission of the Communist Party to adopt rules to catch corrupt officials. Analysts doubt slogans, like those of Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, can work without a democratic system of control. The facts are clear. In 2012, about a trillion dollars embezzled by corrupt officials left the country. This year, another US$ 1.5 trillion is expected to do the same.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - China's new leader Xi Jinping has called on the Central Commission of the Communist Party to support him. He wants new rules to catch corrupt officials whose behaviour is a burden on everyday life. However, his campaign is bound to fail, as did those launched by his predecessor Hu Jintao. In fact, the latest information on corruption in the Party shows that it is getting worse with more and more officials stealing from the public coffers and taking the money out of the country. It is estimated that US$ 1 trillion left the country last year.

Xi yesterday delivered a strongly worded speech at the plenary session of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in Beijing, Xinhua reported today. "On one hand we are resolute in investigating the party's leading figures when they are found to be involved in violations of party discipline and the laws of the country," Xi is quoted as saying. "On the other, we keep effectively tackling malpractices and solving bribe-taking issues, which have plagued the general public in their daily life."

Since he began his rise to power, Xi Jinping has made the fight against corruption a key goal. Indeed, ordinary Chinese are increasingly aware (via the internet) that political life is affected by business interests and huge amounts of money, and this has led to social protest and unrest.

Some media reports outside of China about the wealth of Chinese leaders and their families, like outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (US$ 2.7 billion) and incoming Xi Jinping (US$ 1 billion) have outraged ordinary Chinese and caused even diplomatic problems.

However, most Chinese have no illusion about the efficacy of anti-corruption campaigns. Those carried out by outgoing President Hu Jintao were used mostly to get rid of troublesome political enemies. Even more, for some commentators, Hu's control was never effective and did not extend beyond the walls of Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound in the heart of Beijing.

Real change would require the introduction of press freedom and endowing local assemblies with real power, "making them play a role in monitoring the exercise of power and the implementation of policy," said Prof Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong. "I cannot see how Xi could achieve such objectives in a system short of democratic supervision," Cheng added.

Such pessimism is informed by real facts. In an article published on its website Saturday, the Economic Observer newspaper said that a report by the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection found that corrupt officials took an estimated US$ 1 trillion in 2012 out of the country, up from US$ 412 billion and US$ 600 billion in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Even more officials are expected to go on the run with an additional US$ 1.5 trillion in 2013.

A disciplinary commission official interviewed for the article said that at least 714 officials are confirmed to have fled the country during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday last year.

Indeed, few are convinced in the effectiveness of the government's hard-line policy. Li Yongzhong, an associate dean at the China Academy of Supervision and Discipline Inspection, said that "People want indefinite sentencing and feel there must be severe punishments." However, this "will only generate greater resistance towards the fight against corruption."

By contrast, a special pardon would give officials a chance to make a fresh start. By reducing "the likelihood of those who are already prone to corrupt practices to commit more acts of corruption," it would push them to throw "their support" behind "political reform."