Jul 25, 2014 03:20 PM

Focus of Graft Fight Must Move from Party to Nation, Professor Argues

(Beijing) – The sweeping crackdown on corrupt Communist Party cadres in the government and military has been warmly received by the public, but there has also been concern that it relies too much on the will of one leader and may not solve the root problem.

Yan Jirong, associate director of the Institute of Political Development and Governance at Peking University, said the reliance on a "strongman" and the intensity of the movement that critics say cannot last results from history and limited resources.

In the end, however, he says the campaign must evolve into institutional restraints on power and a system that routinely watches against corruption.

At the current stage, the crackdown is still a matter of cleansing the party of impurities, but it is important that the job does not end there, Yan says.

In a recent interview, Yan shared his views on these issues, saying: "Fighting corruption is not only about the construction of the party, but also building a national institutional structure."

Fighting corruption in the party can lead to the establishment of institutions, he said, and this is a road – the only road – toward modern governance.

The following is excerpts of Yan's interview.

Caixin: There has been an argument that corruption can serve as a lubricant for economic development. What is your take on this view?

Yan Jirong: With the current level of modernization, it is impossible to continue counting on corruption to provide incentives. Development in the past was seeking new driving forces within the boundaries of an existing system, where the government played a leading role and was intimately bound with enterprises. Many countries have experienced such a period during their modernization process, which was initially accompanied by severe corruption. As modernization grows, corruption cannot last forever. Many developed countries managed to reenact order after a period of time. This is precisely what China is facing now. It is not only a task for the Chinese Communist Party but one that must be solved by the country during a transition and development.

Some critics have described the crackdown since the party's selection of the 18th Central Committee in November 2012 as intermittent movements led by a strongman. What is your view?

The current situation surely seems so. A strongman's leadership and efforts that come in fits and starts characterize the anti-corruption campaign. It is partly a result of our history and also because of limited resources and restraints of the old system. Corruption has become so rampant nationally that it is necessary to clean it up through several intense movements. We should care less about whether we need a strongman to lead anti-corruption efforts or whether the fight should be carried out intermittently through organized movements. What is worth more attention is when the practice can evolve into institutional restraints on power and when a routine system for anti-corruption can be built to replace the temporary ones. When there is no order, you need to have a thorough clean-up. But after the clean-up, how to build the institutions will be very important. I hope the fight against corruption can be guided toward this direction.

The backbone of the anti-corruption fight has been the party's discipline inspection commission. Is it a far cry from a government institutional mechanism?

Judging by history, a crackdown on the corruption of party cadres would highlight the importance of graft-fighting organizations such as the discipline inspection commission. What matters more is introducing a regular mechanism with formal standards and rules. We have failed to uproot corruption for so many years, and one major reason is that routine organizations, including the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, have not really played their roles. A vanguard can sweep a battlefield clean at one time, but it takes a standing army to make the achievement enduring. To appease the worries that the fruits of the anti-corruption effort may not last, we need to promptly launch a routine mechanism, such as making the most of public supervision and the NPC's authorities of supervising and impeaching government officials. And all this should be institutionalized.

Is it possible to gradually form institutional restraints by fighting corruption inside the party and then moving on to greater openness and more participation?

At the current stage, the fight against corruption has been largely limited to the party's construction and about kicking out undesirable elements and maintaining the party's purity. Over time, it needs to evolve from a party job to the country's. Only by doing this can we achieve the modernization of state governance. Fighting corruption is not only about the building of the party, but also about building a national institutional structure. Transforming a party's job to a country's requires shifting the focus from the party's internal discipline system to a system that applies to the whole country. It also requires the construction of an effective institutional framework on the national level to fight corruption in addition to the party's own system.

From the national perspective, what can be done?

Publishing property information is one important aspect, and the media's status as a means of supervision should be improved. In the long run, it is absolutely necessary to have government officials register and publish their properties. We need to build up such a system as soon as possible and do not leave it with loopholes. There is still a long distance to travel before we reach this goal. The registry system of personal information has been a mess, and the registry system of real estate assets has not been finished. When these efforts are done, we can start institutionalizing anti-corruption efforts. There is no technical barrier to this effort. What we need is determination and courage.

Can fighting corruption inside the party lead to the establishment of institutions that can lay the groundwork for modern state governance?

This is the only path we have. Other than that we have no alternative path. Building a nation requires an operator. Without a ruling party, it is impossible to get the work done. Taking to the streets cannot solve problems. Relying on the NPC system requires the NPC to have enough authority. Currently, the most mature operating entity is the ruling party. As long as some of its leaders are willing to push forward certain things, they will move along.

Singapore and China share many similarities. What can China learn from Singapore's experience in fighting corruption?

We would be lucky if we can pursue the Singapore model. If the leaders are willing to learn from their experience and copy their model, the people should be supportive. It is another matter whether we should or should not take that road, how far we should proceed on it and how thorough we need to be. Under China's current system, the only hope rests on pushing things forward within the framework of the party's leadership. Now that the leaders want to move ahead, we should support them and follow along. It would be extremely unfortunate if vested interest groups prevail, wanting to keep their privileges.

Whether a country is ruled by a one-party system or a multi-party system depends on the interaction between the ruling party and the populace. It would be nice if China follows the Singapore model, whether it is willing to improve itself, stay close to the people, be clean and diligent with work, and listen to the people's voices. If this is the case, then what does the populace need to worry about?

(Rewritten by Wang Yuqian)

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