China’s Anti Corruption Campaign
By admin March 4, 2015


On Monday, March 2nd, the Chinese government released a list of 14 senior officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the military of the People’s Republic of China, who have either been convicted of graft or are currently under investigation.  The majority of these officers are in the political or logistics departments of the PLA.  Most notable for his high status is Rear Admiral Guo Zhenggang, whose father, Guo Boxiong, was once Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (China’s more powerful version of the American National Security Council) and as such the nation’s highest ranked soldier.  At roughly the same time, the investigative journal Caijing published an expose of corrupt land dealings tied to Admiral Guo’s family, suggesting an investigation has had some time in the making.

This is the latest event in a long and very publicized campaign against corruption that has been waged by Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came into office in 2012.  In his inaugural address upon coming to power, Xi had denounced “corruption and bribe taking by some party members and cadres;” to address this, he said, it was the responsibility of the Communist Party to “supervise its own conduct,” “[enforce] strict discipline,” and improve “the party’s work style.”  This has been followed by new rules (an “eight-point guide”) meant to curb corruption, and several high profile prosecutions.  Several other figures as high ranking as Admiral Guo or higher have already been targeted; among them are another former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Xu Caihou, and the former Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, and as such, head of China’s security and law enforcement apparatus, Zhou Yongkang.

This anti-corruption campaign has raised suspicions among international observers, and more discreetly from President Xi’s opponents inside China as well.  Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has, in recent months, switched to targeting “cliques” – groups of colluding officials with shared political or economic goals – more than individuals.  He and his supporters claim that the cliques play factional politics at the expense of the nation’s good, that they are supposed to be illegal under Chinese law, that they have caused infighting, graft, and scandals, and that efforts to remove them are long overdue.  However, critics of Xi Jinping, according to The Wall Street Journal, have argued that the cliques allow diverse interest groups to express themselves, influence policy and prevent authoritarian excess, and that Xi himself is engaging in factionalism by using the pretext of anti-corruption campaigns to rid himself of opponents and fill high ranking positions with loyalists.

The Wall Street Journal’s argument is another highlighted facet of the general observation of President Xi’s government as more personalized than that of his predecessors.  The Economist has called Xi Jinping “the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping” (Mao’s successor who died in 1997), but concedes that this could be a good thing.  The previous leader, Hu Jintao, embraced a more consensus based approach to governance, but was unable to make much progress against vested interests in the system; “too many people do too well out of the current system to make change easy,” which may make the kind of accumulation of power Xi Jinping is seeking necessary to overcome this influence.

The move to clean out corruption in the higher ranks of the PLA, in short, follows naturally from President Xi’s policies since assuming office.  So far, the international community has said little about these efforts.  If the President continues to focus on the PLA and other security organs, however, this may change, with countries being either reassured by a crackdown on abuses in the PLA, or concerned by the President’s interest in asserting his authority over them.

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