Jun 25, 2014 06:46 PM

Curbing Corruption Requires More than Just Politics

No one is off-limits in the government's campaign against corruption. CCTV financial news channel director Guo Zhenxi was put under investigation late last month, three months after the sacking of security vice-minister Li Dongsheng, who also worked for the state broadcaster.

In late March, Gu Junshan, a former deputy logistics chief of the People's Liberation Army, was indicted for embezzlement and bribery, among other charges.

Just this month, the government announced that Su Rong, vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was being investigated for "discipline violations," the most senior serving official to be placed under investigation so far. A few days later, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission reported on its website that Ling Zhengce, the vice-chairman of Shanxi's political advisory body, was also facing a probe.

The fall from grace of one official after another demonstrates the government's determination to net both "tigers" and "flies."

No organization or individual should be untouchable because corruption is pervasive. As these and other cases show, the malaise has reached into every nook and cranny of China's society and economy.

As long as the oversight of power remains lax, corruption will flourish, whatever the industry or project. By coming down hard on perpetrators, the government is building up public confidence in its law enforcement. It also sends a warning to other corrupt officials to clean up their act.

The ferocity of the crackdown under the current government has been unprecedented in recent times. Although supported by most Chinese, the campaign has its doubters nonetheless. Some say cleaning up government is good, but only up to a point, or we risk damaging the image of the Communist Party and government. Some others voice fears that a sustained crackdown will hurt economic development.

Yet others absurdly suggest that the crackdown will encourage inaptitude because officials who are afraid of being held responsible for making a mistake will try to do as little as possible.

These arguments are all indefensible. People who argue thus may have good intentions but such twisted reasoning can be easily hijacked and used to shield the corrupt.

To be sure, revelations of corruption in high places may – for a while – lower some people's trust in the government. But corrupt dealings are a fact, whether or not they have been exposed. Allowing them to fester and rot away China's public institutions is the surer way to erode public confidence.

So the fight against corruption cannot be half-hearted. The government must demonstrate its zero tolerance for corruption through its actions. This is the best way to burnish the leadership's image.

China's economic growth is slowing. No doubt businesses in the fine dining, hotel and entertainment industries are hurting because of the corruption crackdown. But should they have flourished to such a degree in the first place? Many of these companies thrive on dirty money. One could argue that the economy would be better off without them.

Anti-graft officers should get even tougher, in fact. When times were good, the problems of overcapacity, high debt and credit risks were easily covered up by the boom. With the focus now on belt-tightening and restructuring, exposing the problems is the first step toward solving them.

It is vital the government builds a just and fair society to ensure China meets its development and reform goals. And cracking down on the corrupt, wherever they may be found, must be part of this effort.

The military and information control are key parts of the Chinese government, and exposing the rot in these sectors will understandably shake public trust. The cases of Gu and Guo, for example, show just how deep the problem goes.

In the military, especially, corruption can be deadly. Leaders from Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao to now Xi have prioritized the armed forces. There is no question a corrupt army can be defeated easily.

To root out corruption, moral education plays a part. But the most effective means is to build institutions that bring power under scrutiny. Official discipline must be enforced through a system of supervision, accountability and transparency.

Some people have suggested that while the West relies on the rule of law to curb corruption, China should rely on politics. This is wrong. Corrupt officials like Chen Xitong, the former mayor of Beijing, and Chen Liangyu, Shanghai's ex-party boss, said the right things about opposing corruption, but did everything wrong. Su even wrote an article last year demanding stronger enforcement of party discipline. Errant officials must have their knuckles rapped.

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