Before you applaud the CCP’s anti-corruption measures, consider that in China the notion of corruption is politically constructed and includes criticism of the Party.
by Massimo Introvigne
On January 24, the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the CCP concluded in Beijing. It was attended by President Xi Jinping and other key Party leaders, and ended up approving a communiqué in eight points.
To the extent they pay attention to the internal activities of the CCP, Western media interpreted the session as one putting renewed emphasis on Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption. This was also what the CCP media in English insisted on: “building a clean government and fight corruption.”
China clearly does have a problem of corruption, and Xi’s efforts to uproot it are often applauded in the West. However, a more in-depth analysis of what exactly the CCP intends for “corruption” is often missing. Yes, corruption includes the fact that often bureaucrats take bribes. Nobody can argue that bribes are a good thing, however it is a well-known tenet of political theory that in totalitarian regimes bribes are sometimes the only way to soften the system. Refugees from China who manage to escape to the West often report that only through bribes they managed to have their names removed from the national police data base, and get a passport. Some of them even bribed their way out of jail and torture.
Obviously, the CCP does not share this view. However, its concept of “corruption” is much broader. Under Xi Jinping, it extends to businesspersons and oligarchs who plead for a more effective system of regulation, or more independence of the private sector, or go beyond what the Party regards as “Communist sobriety” in their lifestyles. They are regarded as “corrupt” selectively, however. It seems that those who start and conclude their speeches by sycophantically praising Xi Jinping and the CCP are tolerated even if their lavish way of living verges on the extravagant. But just let slip what some may perceive as an indirect criticism of the President and the system, and you will find yourself in trouble, no matter how rich and powerful you are. Just ask Jack Ma.
The January 24 communiqué, with its eight anti-corruption commandments, is a useful document, which should become mandatory reading for those in the West who are tempted to applaud Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption.
Commandment number one: “Study and implement Xi Jinping’s thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, and improve the ability to use Marxist positions, viewpoints, and methods to analyze and solve practical problems.” Those who do not do this are suspected of political corruption.
Second, consider that “corruption cases involve both political and economic issues,” and “increase the punishment” for “political corruption.” This is a key point: there is not only economic corruption, but also political corruption, i.e., dissent.
Third, “strictly investigate hedonism and extravagance” including when practiced by spouses and children of those suspected of corruption, but remember that the litmus test is whether “the CCP’s central leadership’ decisions” are implemented and obeyed.
Fourth, “continue to rectify corruption and unhealthy practices among the masses,” and “unhealthy” are all the practices that “destroy law enforcement” and “harm the interests of the people,” which, coincidentally, is the language used in the Supreme Court directives on combating illegal religion and “separatism.”
Fifth, “give full play to the CCP’s supervision and inspection” in all fields, “accurately implementing political inspection requirements.”
Sixth, increase the “political responsibility of the CCP organization.”
Seventh, “effectively promote the full coverage of internal CCP supervision.” “Study and formulate the working regulations of the CCP Disciplinary Inspection Committee,” and “investigate and punish CCP members” who do not follow the Party leaders.
Eight, “Take the lead in talking politics in a clear-cut manner, take the lead in improving political judgment, political understanding, and political execution, strengthen discipline awareness, discipline thinking, and discipline quality.”
Several official commentaries of the communique have been published by the CCP. One astutely observes that “the word ‘politics’ appear 22 times” in the document. This is precisely the point. For the CCP, “corruption” is a political concept. Dissenting from the CCP and its leaders is not less “corruption” than taking bribes. In fact, it is worse.
Commenting on a document on corruption, the text states that, “Politics with a clear-cut stand is a distinctive feature of Marxist political parties, and it is also our Party’s consistent political advantage. Practice has proved that many problems existing in the CCP are related to political problems. If you do not understand and solve the problems politically, you will fall into a passive situation where you will not solve the problems at all. It is precisely because of this that General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized that ‘to manage the Party strictly in all respects must first be viewed from a political perspective,’ and has promoted the development of a comprehensive and strict Party management to make the CCP stronger and stronger.”
Who is “corrupt” in China? The answer is, whoever is labeled by the CCP as corrupt. The CCP’s concept of corruption does include economic wrongdoings and bribes, but also extends to political criticism of the Party and dissent of all kind. Also, economic corruption is often punished selectively based on political considerations. Applauding Xi Jinping’s battle against corruption may lead, inadvertently, to applaud the CCP’s criminalization of dissent.