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Society & Culture

The Need for an Anti-Corruption System

Mar 17, 2014
  • Tong Zhiwei

    Professor, East China University of Political Science and Law

China’s anti-corruption campaign has been remarkable since the 18th Congress of the CPC. To date, 22 senior provincial officials have been investigated, including 3 ministerial officials: Jiang Jiemin, Li Dongsheng, etc. In the last year alone, according to incomplete statistics, 36,907 corrupt officials were investigated and prosecuted; 30,420 CPC members were punished for violating the “eight-point rule”; and at least 227 of them were provincial department level cadres or those of higher levels. 

Tong Zhiwei

Describing the problem as “a disease that calls for powerful drugs,” in his speech at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Commission, President Xi Jinping  urged all Party members to continue the fight against corruption until the end with the resolution and courage depicted in an ancient Chinese idiom where a man has to cut off his own snake-bitten wrist to save his life.  Predictably, the anti-corruption storm in China in 2014 will most likely be more intense. It is fair to say, so far as the symptom of the disease of corruption is concerned, the anti-corruption campaign has accomplished remarkable achievements and is likely to  make even greater progress. 

People are asking whether the anti-corruption campaign is just a gust of wind? Will everything return to where it started or will even worse things occur? How can we continue to expand the achievement of the anti-corruption campaign and steadily contain official corruption at a relatively lower degree. 

Now, it seems that more attention should be paid to constructing a system for the anti-corruption campaign in China. Anti-corruption efforts can be broken down into two levels: the level of addressing symptoms and the level of addressing the root-causes. The former is aimed at removing the symptoms of corruption, while the latter is aimed at preventing and eradicating its root-causes. And the former resorts to punishment with heavy punches, while the latter depends more on building a legal system. 

Building an anti-corruption legal system entails transforming the single anti-corruption model that only uses power into a comprehensive model that uses not only power but also right. The power-reliant anti-corruption model is the model where the fight is conducted in a top-down way by discipline watchdogs of CPC committees at all levels of the country. On the contrary, the right-reliant anti-corruption model refers to a model that primarily relies on citizens’ right in checking the behaviors of officials via ballots to control the election and removal of officials, via tipping off and filing suits, and via freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This right-reliant anti-corruption model has not yet been put in place in China, and will need to be predicated on a broad implementation of a competitive election system. 

The anti-corruption model, if applied properly, can effectively investigate and prosecute corrupted behavior of embezzlement and bribery, though the model can do little to cut corruption off from its sources. In other words, it is difficult for the model to prevent “money politics”, “secretary politics”, “crony politics”, “bureaucrats shield one another” and so on.  In terms of cutting corruption off from its sources, it must settle the problem of allowing the ballots of the constituents and representatives of the People’s Congress to genuinely decide whether an official should be left in office. 

The legal construction of the anti-corruption campaign also requires a property declaration and publication system regarding leaders at all levels.  The legal construction of anti-corruption prevails in every country with a strong rule-of-law. Laws that require the declaration of family property and publication covering officials at all levels need to be stipulated and implemented. It is only a matter of time before the system will take hold in China, or the ruling party will lose the trust of the people. The property declaration and publication systems are both tried on newly-appointed leaders in some regions, which is a good beginning.  The top leadership in China should soon apply the property declaration and publication system to leaders of all levels. 

Moreover, in improving the legal construction of anti-corruption, the courts should exercise independent judicial power.  Although the power to place on file for investigation and prosecution on embezzling and bribing is exercised at all levels, the latter are actually powerless to investigate and prosecute officials of higher levels, due to the extra-law rules. The courts’ exercise of judicial power sometimes suffers from the perplex of “substituting party for law.” Therefore, the legal construction of anti-corruption should be conducted in tandem with the reform of the judicial system. 

For the legal construction of anti-corruption, it is a strenuous task to reduce and eliminate selective case-handling for the sake of doing judicial justice. Selectively handling cases often leads to serious judicial injustice, given the fact that most officials are more or less problematic themselves: those who are chosen to be investigated have bad luck, while those who are not chosen to be investigated are free at large. Whether a person is chosen to be investigated or not is most often determined by a few powerful people in the relevant region. In short, we should prevent the selective handling of cases by institutionalization measures. At the same time, we should unequivocally oppose “political consciousness” in handling criminal cases. 

Finally, we shall foster a stable system that encourages citizens to use their right of charges or exposures, expand freedom of press and freedom of speech, and allow the media to expose officials’ corrupt behavior. Those individuals that tuen to the media to expose corrupt officials are a rare element of the democratic anti-corruption model. This coincides with the power-reliant anti-corruption model, and should therefore be treasured. In reality, however, the element of democratic anti-corruption model cannot play its role due to the blurred distinction between reporting corruption by real names, and the fabrication of charges.  These problems must be addressed by way of legislative interpretation or judicial interpretation.

Tong Zhiwei is a professor of constitutional studies at the East China University of Political Science and Law.


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