China’s anti-graft campaign has made remarkable progress since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in late 2012, and yet the battle is far from over. This was the message announced loud and clear at the latest session of the CPC's anti-corruption body.
President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed that full and rigorous governance over the Party must be unswervingly imposed while delivering a speech at the second plenary session of the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the CPC on January 11.
"The Party itself and its members have gone through essential and profound changes," Xi said. This, according to him, requires a higher quality of Party management and enhanced political and organizational functions of Party organs.
The CCDI plenary session was held for three days from January 11 to 13 in Beijing. On January 9, two days before the assembly was convened, Fang Fenghui, a member of China's Central Military Commission (CMC) and former Chief of staff of the CMC Joint Staff Department, had been transferred to the military prosecution authority on suspicion of bribery.
Fang is not the first senior official to have been investigated in 2018. Feng Xinzhu, Vice Governor of Shaanxi Province, and Ji Xiangqi, Vice Governor of Shandong Province, were investigated for suspected corruption and violation of discipline on January 3 and 4, respectively.
"The investigation of two high-ranking officials on successive days demonstrates that China is determined to root out corruption, while also marking a good start for the anti-graft campaign this year," Du Zhizhou, Deputy Director of the Clean Governance Research Center at Beihang University, told China Daily.
War of attrition
Xi stressed the Party's resolve in the face of corruption in his speech on January 11. He called for heroic action and determination in order to cope with the complexities of governing the nation. "We should push forward this campaign with a fearlessness that grabs the bull by the horns and a fighting spirit that never steps aside in face of the enemy," Xi said.
Safeguarding the authority of the CPC Central Committee, the Party should develop itself into a dynamic Marxist ruling party that moves in synchrony with the times, is supported by the people, is brave in self-reform and survives all challenges and hardship, Xi said.
At the disciplinary session, Xi called for more anti-corruption efforts to "fundamentally improve the political ecosystem of the Party." While exercising strict governance, the Party will try its best to discover problems as early as possible to prevent officials from making irrevocable mistakes and to encourage them to correctly perform their duties.
Party members who hold high positions should be subject to higher and more rigorous standards, and placed under tighter scrutiny, Xi said.
"The speech delivered by General Secretary Xi displays a clarity of judgment on the current anti-corruption situation," Gao Bo, an official from CCDI, told Xinhua News Agency. "In the past five years, we have solved many internal problems but this campaign is still a long way from completion. We must develop a positive and healthy political culture in the Party and improve the Party's political ecosystem, stubbornly correcting misconduct in all its forms."
This echoed Xi's remarks in his report to the 19th CPC National Congress in October last year. "No place has been out of bounds, no stone left unturned, and no tolerance shown in the fight against corruption," Xi said in the report. "The anti-corruption campaign has been built into a crushing tide, and continues to be consolidated and developed."
"Currently, the fight against corruption remains grave and complex, and the goal of strict Party governance should not be forsaken halfway. We must have the resolve and tenacity to persevere in the never ending fight against corruption," said a communiqué adopted at the CCDI plenary session. "The most important thing is to tighten the Party's political rules and disciplines," it continued, calling for "better supervision over the political life of the Party and how its policies are being implemented."
In December 2012, China's central leadership issued the Eight-Point Frugality Rules, requiring government officials to strictly practice frugality and clean up undesirable work styles such as formalism, hedonism and extravagance. Practices such as the use of public funds to buy gifts, hold banquets and pay for entertainment activities have been strictly banned.
A high-profile anti-corruption campaign has swept across the country since then, leading to the downfall of a number of high-level officials, known as "tigers," and many lower-level ones, known as "flies."
Among the "tigers" brought down by the campaign were Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee; Bo Xilai, former Secretary of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee; Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both former generals and vice chairs of the Central Military Commission; and Ling Jihua and Su Rong, former vice chairs of China's top political advisory body.
In 2017 alone, 20 high ranking officials from central Party and governmental agencies, centrally administered state-owned enterprises and central financial institutions were investigated for alleged graft and violations of discipline, including Sun Zhengcai, former Secretary of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee, and Wang Sanyun, former Vice Chairman of the Education, Science, Culture and Public Health Committee of the 12th National People's Congress.
Figures from the CCDI show that by October 2017, more than 70,000 officials at or above the level of county head had been investigated for suspected corruption since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012. More than 100 military officers with the rank of major general or higher had also been brought down.
Additionally, 1.34 million township-level officials, and 648,000 Party members and officials in rural areas were also punished during that period. The CCDI has conducted the inspection of 155,000 Party organizations since December 2012, referring 65,000 pieces of evidence relating to cases involving officials for further investigation.
China has also worked with the international community to hunt corruption suspects overseas via the codenamed Skynet Operation. A total of 1,300 fugitives were captured or returned to China in 2017, with around 980 million yuan ($151 million) recovered in stolen funds. Of the returned fugitives, 347 had been Party members or state functionaries, and 14 were on an Interpol red notice of 100 suspects.
Efforts have also been made to address the corruption that occurs on people's doorsteps, especially in the form of poverty relief in 2017. Nearly 450 people were investigated and punished for fraudulent claims or the misappropriation of funds, with 730 million yuan ($112 million) of misused assets recouped in an inspection of 28 provinces in 2017, according to the Ministry of Finance and the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
A survey by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that 94 percent of people were satisfied with the efforts of the anti-corruption campaign in 2017, 19 percentage points higher than that in 2012.
The CCDI now operates a monthly reporting system that logs the implementation of the rules within provincial-level governments, central Party and governmental agencies, centrally administered state-owned enterprises and central financial institutions.
Li Shixin, a spokesman for the Organization Department of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, said on December 29, 2017, that "the department will establish an information database of clean government officials jointly with the discipline commission to better select and supervise public servants."
The CCDI will fight misconduct in the selection and appointment of officials, government approval and supervision, resource exploitation, finance, and other key areas prone to abuses of power, according to the communiqué of the CCDI plenary session.
According to a circular released by the CCDI in December 2017, the fight against corruption in the next three years will mainly target officials who have continued to exercise a lack of restraint and have been involved in misconduct since the 18th CPC National Congress in late 2012.
"The CPC presents a model to the world in terms of strict self-governance," said Ivona Ladjevac, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Politics and Economics (IIPE) in Belgrade, talking to Xinhua News Agency.
As the head of the IIPE Regional Center for the Belt and Road Initiative, Ladjevac claims to have been impressed with the CPC's anti-corruption campaign since 2012, which has been attracting a great deal of attention in Serbia.
"The Party leadership has been insisting on strict governance, which is applied at every echelon, not only those high-ranking party members but also those at lower levels. Now Xi talks about China entering a new era, it's very important to deepen this strict governance over the Party and retain its fighting spirit," Ladjevac said, adding that the Party has undergone essential and profound changes thanks to strict self-governance.
"Parties, despite their respective political orientation, should learn from the CPC's organization, their devotion to social and economic development, and their efforts to build a better image for China in the world," she said.
Ma Lin, a fugitive who fled to Saudi Arabia, is repatriated to China on September 15, 2017 (XINHUA)
The reform of the supervisory system is the latest in a series of efforts to rein in corruption in China. This reform will be fully advanced in 2018, and efforts will be made to create a highly efficient supervisory mechanism to ensure coordination between discipline inspection and judicial investigation, according to the CCDI's communiqué.
China is expanding pilot projects for the reform nationwide, with supervisory commissions being established at national, provincial, city and county levels. Sharing offices and staff with CPC discipline inspectors, the new commissions will incorporate existing supervisory and anti-corruption agencies within government and procuratorate.
Meanwhile, The CCDI will continue to dispatch inspection groups regularly and on specific missions, as well as launching more effective education campaigns.
The new supervisory commissions will receive their authority from national laws, while the Party discipline commissions must work according to Party discipline. In this way the coordination of the two commissions' tasks will play a key role in fighting corruption.
The head and deputy head of a supervisory commission will be appointed by the people's congress at the corresponding level and is answerable to its authority. The commissions can investigate corruption cases, but they do not have the power to prosecute a suspect in a court of law. Internal monitoring as well as supervision from the public and media is also of great importance.
"The extension of supervisory commissions will be a major development in the fight against corruption this year," said Zhuang Deshui, Deputy Director of the Clean Government Research Center of Peking University.
"In order to win public trust for the supervisory commissions, it is necessary to put their power within the remit of law, so as to establish an effective supervision mechanism nationwide," said Zhuang.
The supervision bodies aren't themselves exceptional to the anti-corruption campaign. Figures from the CCDI show that since the 18th CPC National Congress in late 2012, a total of 22 officials from within the CCDI itself have been investigated, and about 230 officials have received written or verbal warnings. More than 10,000 currently working and retired officials with discipline inspection agencies at various levels were punished.
In January 2017, a three-episode TV documentary, produced by the CCDI and China Central Television, was released, featuring interviews with former officials convicted of graft and serving as a warning to others.
In the same month the CCDI began trialing protocol regulating the ways in which discipline inspectors initiate and carry out investigations.
"The protocol is a response to the question of how to supervise the inspectors themselves," said Professor Xie Chuntao with the CPC Central Committee Party School.
To better mobilize the public in the supervision of officials is one of the main tasks for 2018, according to Ji Naili, a professor of anti-graft studies at the Zhou Enlai School of Governance, Nankai University, echoing Xi's remarks stressing the power of the people. Xi said that the Party's internal supervision can function well with assistance from the public and promised accessible channels for the public to advise on Party management and inform against dishonest officials.
"At various levels the Party discipline commissions have already devised ways to supervise Party officials, but at the grassroots level, ordinary people's supervision over officials has been less effective," Ji told China Daily. "In order to solve this problem, different levels of the Party discipline commissions and the incoming supervisory commissions need to respond to people's complaints more swiftly and effectively, so that the latter feel more confident in their attempts to supervise officials."