12/30/2010, 00.00
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White paper on corruption, 113,000 people investigated in 2010 alone

The government releases corruption data. Hundreds of thousands of cases are under investigation, and yet the problem persists. Beijing is optimistic but experts argue that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are needed to defeat a problem that leads to popular unrest and undermines the power of the Communist Party.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In their first white paper, Chinese authorities acknowledged that building a clean government is "complicated and arduous". The document shows in fact that from 2003 to 2009, prosecutors at all levels investigated more than 240,000 cases of corruption. Yet, despite its zero tolerance policy, the problem remains serious.

The problem is widespread and the numbers show it. From January to November this year, the party's discipline watchdog investigated 119,000 graft cases, resulting in 113,000 people being punished, of whom 4,332 were prosecuted, Wu Yuliang, secretary general of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said yesterday.

From 2005 until 2009, more than 69,200 cases of commercial bribery—involving some 16.59 billion yuan (HK.45 billion) —were investigated, the white paper said. Last year, 7,036 officials were held responsible for serious mistakes, breaches of duty, and failing to manage and supervise subordinates, it said.

The paper’s preface is however optimistic, saying that the government has "always kept a clear vision of the long, complicated and arduous nature" of the anti-corruption undertaking and addressed both the "symptoms and root causes of corruption".

Critics are not convinced of the government’s anti-graft strategy, noting that the authorities have been at it for decades. Indeed, malpractice does not appear to be declining. Dissidents and political scientists say the root problems—one-party rule without an independent judiciary and free press—are yet to be addressed.

What the party has done is crack down on press freedom and freedom of expression, with the government becoming increasingly uneasy about widespread discontent over endemic corruption.

The white paper does encourage the news media to “expose unhealthy tendencies”, saying that the government “highly values the positive role played by the internet” in bringing wrongdoing to light. Online complaints have certainly led to scandals and crackdown on dishonest officials.

At the same time, other experts have noted that the fight against corruption can also hide power struggles within the regime. One of the biggest involved a powerful party boss in Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, who was jailed for 18 years in 2008 for his role in an embezzlement scandal.

Overall, corruption has led to 87,000 incidents of mass protest in 2007 (the government has not released data for subsequent years).

For some time President Hu Jintao and other leaders have warned that widespread corruption can undermine the power of the Communist Party from both within (by weakening its organisation) and without (by causing dissatisfaction among those victimised by corrupt officials).

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