Global Times: reform alone cannot fight corruption

As we edge closer to the 18th Party Congress and its important leadership transition, one of the most crucial things to watch is how the debate over “political system reforms”, or zhengzhi tizhi gaige (政治体制改革), shapes up in China’s press. A key related issue, of course, will be the fight against corruption.

During his July 1, 2011, speech to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, readers may remember [Qian Gang's analysis here], President Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) said that the Party needed to fight corruption seriously and effectively, or risk losing the support of the people.

But Hu’s speech itself showed an abundance of caution. He offered no concrete answers, not even new political buzzwords — suggesting no one in the leadership had the upper hand and that the battle lines were silently being drawn. He made no mention whatsoever, for example, of the issue of officials reporting their assets (even internally), which has been tossed about for years. He made no mention of the role of press supervision, or “supervision by public opinion” (舆论监督), in holding officials to account.

Throwing up one more for the political reform debate file this year, the Global Times ran an editorial yesterday called, “Fighting Corruption is a Crucial Battle for Chinese Society”. The editorial essentially argued that while corruption is a key issue and should be fought aggressively, the Chinese public should manage their expectations, understanding that thoroughly eliminating corruption is impossible.


[ABOVE: The May 29, 2012, lead editorial in the Global Times addresses corruption and political reform.]

Re-posting the editorial yesterday, major web portals, including QQ.com, rewrote the headline of the Global Times as: “China Must Permit Some Corruption, the Public Should Understand“.

The altered headline itself prompted a great deal of debate on Chinese social media. “QQ.com has spoken the true import of the Global Times editorial,” one user responded.

Addressing the issue this morning, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡锡进) wrote on his own Weibo account:

The headline for yesterday’s Global Times editorial was, “Fighting Corruption is a Crucial Battle for Chinese Society.” In reposting the editorial, QQ.com maliciously changed the headline to, “China Must Permit Some Corruption, the Public Should Understand”, misleading readers. The Global Times can be criticized, but if this sort of arm-twist editing is encouraged and imitated, this would be to the detriment of public opinion in China. I hope all web editors across the country to not err in opposing this way of doing things.


[ABOVE: The Global Times editorial appears on QQ.com with the altered headline.]

I encourage readers to make their own judgements about the Global Times editorial. A full translation follows:

Fighting Corruption is a Crucial Battle for Chinese Society” (反腐败是中国社会发展的攻坚战)
Global Times
May 29, 2012

Yesterday it was announced that former railway ministry chief and ministry Party secretary Liu Zhijun (刘志军) has been formally expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. He is suspected of crimes and has been transferred to judicial authorities for handling according to the law. This news has once again rattled the public sensitive nerves on the issue of corruption. Nationally, news about the fall of corrupt officials has come out again and again, giving people the impression that there is wave upon wave of corrupt [officials]. The government arrests corrupt officials, but they keep on coming. So what is going on here?

China is clearly in the midst of a period of high corruption, and the conditions for entirely removing corruption are not in place. Some people say, all we need is to “democratize” and the issue of corruption can be resolved. This view, however, is naive. There are many “democratic countries” in Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and India, where the problem of corruption is more severe than in China. But China is perhaps the country in Asia right now where “the pain of corruption” is felt most keenly.

This has to do with China’s political moral code of “serving the people”, which is lodged in the hearts of the whole society. But in fact, the market economy has upset the implementation [of this moral code], and officials that shrug it off or even betray it continue to emerge through various cracks in our system. China is a country where globalization runs deep, and the high standards of clean [governance] of developed nations have already been acknowledged by the Chinese public. Under the forced compression into the Chinese public opinion environment of this information stemming from different times and contexts, there is no way of release from the pain and entanglement.

There is no way in any country to “root out” corruption. Most critical is containing it to a level acceptable to the public. And to do this is, for China, especially difficult.

In Singapore and Hong Kong salaries are high, and in the United States most candidates [for public office] are wealthy. Generally, after someone comes to office they gather a reputation and resources that enable them to take various “revolving doors” after they have left office, cashing in on these resources. But in China all of these roads are closed off.

Public opinion in China would not support a general raising of official salaries. And the system does not permit the use of personal influence and connections to make major money after an official finishes serving. And allowing the rich to serve as officials would cause people to feel something is amiss. The legal wages of Chinese officials are quite low, and a number of local officials use “unspoken rules” (潜规则) to enrich themselves.

The entire society in China has to some extent today become “ruled by the unspoken” (潜规则化). Doctors, teachers and others involved in public welfare industries are also working by “unspoken rules.” Many have legal wages that are low, but earn “grey income” (灰色收入).

It is not clear where the boundaries of these “unspoken rules” are. This is one of the reasons why corruption cases are so numerous. There is a popular saying now that, “The law cannot be enforced when everyone is an offender” (法不责众). Once an official takes this idea to heart, and believes that “other people are doing the same thing,” then he becomes extremely dangerous.

We must severely crack down on those who are corrupt, never appeasing them. This will substantially raise the dangers and costs of corruption, and serve the necessary deterrent role. The government must make mitigating corruption it biggest governing objective.

The public must firmly increase supervision by public opinion [i.e., monitoring of power by voicing views, particularly through the media], raising the impetus in pushing forward with the fight against corruption. But the public must also understand, on this great road, the objective fact and reality that China has no way of entirely suppressing corruption without sending the whole country into pain and confusion.

In saying these things, we don’t at all mean to suggest that fighting corruption is not important, that it can to put off. Quite the opposite, we believe that the fight against corruption should become the chief problem to be addressed by political reform in China, and that it is a common pursuit of the whole country.

We also believe that fighting corruption is not entirely something that can be “fought”, nor is it something that can be entirely “reformed.” It’s resolution relies at the same time on “development”. It is a question of individual officials, and a question of the system — but that’s not the entire story. It is also a question of the “overall development level” (综合发展水平) of Chinese society.

Fighting corruption is a difficult task in China’s social development. But its victory relies at the same time on the elimination of other obstructions in other areas of battle. China can’t conceivably be in a situation where it is a country behind in all other areas, but where its officials are really clean. Even if that were possible, it would not be sustainable. Fighting corruption is a point of breakthrough for China. But this country ultimately can only “move forward in a comprehensive manner” (综合前进).

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