08/11/2014, 00.00
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To stop corruption, (the party's) absolute power must be curbed

by Bao Tong
For the great leader, the Zhou Yongkang investigation comes as no surprise. The party decides who and what can be pursued. A genuine fight against corruption requires democracy, an independent public opinion and independent judiciary. Courtesy of Radio Free Asia.

Beijing (AsiaNews/RFA) -  It was neither shocking nor exciting for me when the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee standing committee announced the investigation into Zhou Yongkang, nor did I have any fantasies or any sense of suspense about it. I have regarded it as inevitable.

Far from being simply a matter of the depravity of this or that official or important personage, corruption in China is an inevitable by-product of the political system.

It's not that our officials or celebrities are particularly crooked: the problem lies rather with this huge vat of power that is allowed to swirl around unchecked.

There is an iron rule with no exceptions discovered by Lord Acton in the 19th century: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

This applies in the east and the west, in monarchies and in ruling parties. Where might is right, corruption is always close by, churning off the assembly lines at every level of government.

So I wasn't surprised to hear that stability czar Zhou Yongkang is corrupt. Neither would I be surprised if someone told me the that the Masanjia labor camp was a viper's nest of graft. Acton's rule is universally applicable. It makes no difference if there is one tiger more or less to bother about, or whether the tiger is particularly large or particularly small. I won't care.

'It was inevitable'

Some people are wondering why they picked this moment to announce the investigation into Zhou Yongkang. I would never ask such a dangerous question, because I knew it was inevitable anyway.

This is sure to have been the decision of the party central committee, because, in China, everything comes back to the Communist Party.

Whether or not to fight corruption; who should be targeted or not, and when, and to what extent, and using what procedures; the final decisions about whether to remove them from their posts and kick them out of the party; whether to announce it, and if so, when; right down to the content and the wording of such announcements. All of this must be decided by the party.

Under the system set up by Mao Zedong, the party dictates everything. The party deliberates on all matters of importance, and we shouldn't inquire, lest we be accused of spying on state and party secrets.

I think it's correct to say that this anti-corruption campaign is being led by the party's central committee, and not by the Chinese people.

A lot of people don't seem to grasp this, believing instead that citizens should throw all of their energies into the fight against corruption. The result is a head-on collision with the party, in which they are charged with "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," or "plotting subversion," and that sort of thing.

These [bands of anti-graft activists], all these Xu Zhiyongs have all been "legally" detained by Zhou Yongkang's successors, after all!

Rule of law

The Politburo has decided to hold the 4th plenum [of the 18th Party Congress] in October, and one of the items on the agenda is "full implementation of the rule of law." Just imagine, if we were to fight corruption according to the rule of law, rather than under the rule of the party? The possibility is there.

And if corruption were to be fought according to law, would those people who called on our leaders to reveal their assets still be guilty of any crime? Would journalists who reported on corruption be criminalized? Would lawyers who collect evidence about corruption be guilty of anything? It's hard to guess the answer to those questions. As before, we'll have to wait for the almighty party to decide.

And as before, I daren't dream. Though we may be on the threshold of a legal anti-corruption campaign, it could still all boil down to horse-trading over how much money is reported to be involved, and how long a sentence is handed down.

The basic requirement for a system-wide anti-corruption campaign must be the curbing of absolute power. This is radically different from the above approach.

Three curbs are necessary: the curb of democracy, the curb of public opinion and the curb of judicial independence. We can't do without any of them.

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