China: Xi Jinping continues anti-corruption crackdown

The current phase of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign in China, targeting high-level banking and the elite nuclear rocket force, is expected to continue indefinitely. Xi has made the crackdown a central aspect of his governance, using it to remove individuals deviating from his approach. While some criticize Xi as a Stalin-like figure purging without just cause, others argue that the fear of corruption is real, and the crackdown serves political advantage.

Under Mao, corruption control relied on fostering Party loyalty, but subsequent eras focused on improving living standards to curb corruption. Xi appears to revert to Mao’s emphasis on Party loyalty. Campaigns are launched via the Party, investigating alleged breaches of its regulations, allowing the Party to run probes as it sees fit.

Most high-level positions in Chinese society are held by Communist Party members, making them vulnerable to Party discipline charges. The Anti-Corruption Commission’s actions often involve making individuals disappear, raising concerns about transparency and accountability. This crackdown, intended to clean up economic interactions, may be stifling creativity, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking, undermining the driving forces of China’s economic growth.

The term “lying flat” is used to describe those opting out of the rat race, as well as officials in state-owned enterprises or the private sector doing the minimum to keep their jobs, avoiding standing out. The crackdown extends to the finance sector, targeting senior executives involved in corruption, with over 100 finance sector officials punished in the past year.

Notably, the purging of generals from the nuclear rocket force and the Defense Minister reflects the seriousness of corruption issues, potentially impacting military capabilities. Critics point out the absence of systemic changes to address corruption in the long run, as the Communist Party polices itself without introducing independent anti-corruption bodies, transparency, or a free media.

Xi’s anti-corruption drive has instilled fear among officials, potentially hindering open dialogue and creating an environment where loyalty is prioritized over frank advice. Critics argue that Xi surrounds himself with “yes men,” leading to policy decisions that may not align with economic realities. The crackdown has punished millions, but public cynicism may deepen if corruption persists despite a decade-long battle.

Despite the extensive crackdown on corruption led by Xi Jinping, there are growing concerns about its effectiveness and its impact on governance and public perception. The anti-corruption campaign, which has been ongoing for more than a decade, has targeted both high-level “tigers” and lower-level “flies,” resulting in millions of individuals facing punishments ranging from warnings and fines to heavy prison sentences and even the death penalty.

Critics argue that the continuous parade of officials facing corruption charges may not necessarily indicate a substantial reduction in corrupt practices. The sheer persistence of corruption cases suggests that the crackdown might not be achieving its goal of eradicating corruption or significantly reducing its prevalence.

Moreover, there is a sense that the anti-corruption drive, rather than fostering a belief that the country is well-governed, is tarnishing the reputation of the Communist Party among the general public. The seemingly endless exposure of corrupt officials, often referred to as “caged tigers,” may be contributing to deepening public cynicism. If, after a decade of intensive efforts, the corruption battle still yields similar results, it raises questions about the effectiveness of the approach and whether it has addressed the root causes of corruption.

Another concern raised by observers is the potential impact of the crackdown on economic dynamism. Some argue that the emphasis on rooting out corruption may be suppressing innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and risk-taking – elements that have historically fueled China’s economic growth since the late 20th century. This could result in a risk-averse culture where officials and individuals “lay flat” to avoid standing out and facing potential scrutiny.

Furthermore, the absence of systemic changes, such as the establishment of independent anti-corruption bodies, increased transparency, and an empowered independent media, raises doubts about the long-term effectiveness of Xi’s approach. Without addressing underlying issues and fostering a cultural shift, the anti-corruption campaign may only scratch the surface, leaving the potential for corruption to resurface.

In conclusion, while Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has been a central feature of his leadership, its long-term impact remains uncertain. The continuous purging of officials and the absence of systemic changes raise questions about the sustainability of the current approach. Balancing the need for a clean government with the potential stifling of economic dynamism and public skepticism poses a significant challenge for China’s leadership.

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