The signal from the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party is clear: The Party has felt the acute need of highlighting the authority of law.
Wang Qishan, chief of the Party's anti-corruption watchdog, however, issued a grim reminder of the difficulty to make officials heed Beijing's calls. Even under the daunting pressure of the two-year crusade against power abuse, Wang conceded, rampant corruption continues.
For not a few Party officials, that the Party must "govern the country in accordance with law" is at times mistaken as they, as individuals, are masters of the law and its institution. The widespread corruption and power abuse exposed recently are proof that the rule of law is incomplete, if not impossible, unless the Party subjects itself to the scrutiny and oversight of law.
Chairman Mao Zedong once said that educating the masses is a serious challenge. It still is. But a greater challenge today is to educate, and discipline, officials.
The CPC has a tradition of emphasizing education. Every generation of CPC leaders has had its brand of intra-Party education campaigns. But its reliance on officials' awareness of rules and discipline has been of little help. That even laws and vows of harsh punishment have failed to deter widespread abuse of power in public offices indicates that corrupt officials won't stop their nefarious activities until they are thrown out in the Party's house-cleaning operation.
Ours is a society that values examples. "A lower beam can't be upright if the upper one isn't", goes a popular axiom. Corrupt officials have not only ruined the Party's once fine image, they have set bad examples for society, severely lowering public morale, as well.
The success or failure of the current anti-corruption campaign that Wang spearheads will have a great impact on the CPC's endeavors to renew its quality and to rebuild its image. It is a fight the Party can't afford to lose. But judging from what Wang has revealed, it will be an extremely tough one.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Party's discipline watchdog, has been impressively efficient in conducting probes against corruption and has thus become a source of fear for corrupt officials. But it is unrealistic to pin all our hopes of a clean government on one single watchdog. The CPC has more than 80 million members. To improve its self-regulatory capabilities, it must first make its grassroots watchdogs bite. The prevalence of abuse, on the other hand, exposes an amazing state of paralysis.
More importantly, officials must be convinced that they really do not enjoy any privileges in the eyes of law and that the Party's efforts to promote the rule of law will be within the confines of law.
Party discipline is usually stricter than laws in fighting corruption, but the punishments it hands down are not. If an official who is also a Party member accepts a small amount of money as gift, he will violate Party discipline but not the law. It is hoped that the Fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee will strengthen the measures to regulate the use of power.
Ma Huaide, vice-dean of China University of Political Science and Law, Beijing Youth Daily, Oct 24
Party discipline is not without drawbacks. Some are based on outdated principles, while others lack detailed clauses. It has to be improved to fight corruption more effectively.
Zhen Xiaoying, former vice-dean of and professor at the Central Institute of Socialism, cyol.com, Oct 26
The anti-corruption drive may have deterred officials from openly embezzling funds, but some are waiting for supervision to loosen to restart their criminal acts. The decisions of the Fourth Plenum, which emphasized that the fight against corruption would be long term, have shattered their illusion.
people.com.cn, Oct 23
The rule of law should apply to the Party as well. Also, the Party must regulate its officials so that their actions do not violate either the Constitution or other laws. That may be a huge task for the Party, given that it has more than 80 million members, but it must be done.
Qiang Shigong, professor of law at Peking University, ccdi.gov.cn (official website of Central Commission for Discipline Inspection), Oct 24
Some Party officials used to ignore the law while exercising their powers, believing that they could escape punishment. Now that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has made it clear that the rule of law will prevail within the Party as well, corrupt officials will realize that they cannot escape the long arm of the law.
Beijing News, Oct 25