Aside from the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, the anti-corruption declaration signed by APEC members at the just-concluded Beijing meeting may have been one of the most talked about topics here in China. However, besides specific contents of the document, overseas media seem to be more interested in the state of corruption in China. China is a country that values practical benefits. The anti-corruption declaration is closely related to China’s on-going “fox-hunting,” which aims to track down corrupt officials who have fled the country and needs effective APEC assistance in the investigation, extradition and repatriation of such officials. Of course, it’s true the other way around, too.
The fight against corruption in China faces tough challenges. During a recent speech, Wang Qishan, the frontman of Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign, denounced some Chinese officials as “lawless,” “shameless,” and having no respect for anything. The more than 200 million RMB of cash uncovered at the home of an official with the National Development and Reform Commission who was under investigation on corruption charges as well as the grim pictures of corruption the inspection teams Wang had dispatched to the provinces and major state firms and professional institutions are reminders of the prevalence and complexity of this evil phenomenon.
To many people’s surprise, despite the forceful moves the Communist Party of China central leadership has made against corruption in the past two years, some CPC officials have continued to embezzle and take bribes.
Between the lines of Wang’s harsh remarks on corruption, however, has been a tireless effort to persuade officials to discipline themselves, demonstrating an explicit policy orientation to help them mend their ways. More interestingly, as a man who had done much historical research, his admonishments have always come with a scholarly flare; he draws upon traditional ideals of officialdom, such as the interdependence between law and etiquette, calibration of the mind and cultivation of moral character. Such ideas are humanistic nutrition for the leadership’s latest proposal to govern in accordance with the law.
The central leadership’s high-profile anti-graft campaign in the past two years has accomplished a lot. But the sources and roots of the illness are still there. Some people have curbed their corruption just because they “dare not” test the waters. There is thus a long way to go before creating a situation where they “can not” and “do not” want to engage in malpractice of their position.
Wang seems to know very well that corruption may easily “rebound” when the pressure is off. He knows it even better that “once it rebounds, the outcomes will be dreadful to contemplate.” Which is why the CPC has come up with strategic ideas about the institutionalization of anti-graft practices as well as the CPC’s self-regulation. From now on, the party will carry out extensive research on its own experiences as well as past and present theories and practices of party-building worldwide, so that it can work out a complete set of sensible and effective rules and mechanisms for self-discipline.
This would be a gigantic system-engineering program of far-reaching significance. The anti-corruption declaration passed in Beijing embodies both Xi’s resolve and the CPC’s strategic insight.