Showing posts with label CCP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CCP. Show all posts

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Politics Behind China’s Anti-Corruption Drive


The number one motivation behind China’s anti-corruption efforts is domestic stability. Whenever corruption has seeped into a dynasty, be it the Han (220 AD) – as vividly detailed in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms – or the Qing (1911) with its scheming mandarins, the ruling regime lost the mandate of heaven and fell. This not merely a colourful aside: historical memory deeply informs the thinking of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Targeting corrupt actors falls perfectly in line with previous CCP rhetoric regarding the need to root out land owners, saboteurs, hoarders of rice, and other leeches on national productivity. These sentiments were in turn informed by the harsh attitudes against extortionate land lords and officials, as well as bandits; the twin plagues of internal discord during imperial China. Thus anti-corruption efforts and language find ample precedence in Chinese history and national memory. 

Maintaining public support is paramount for the CCP, especially as it has shed it ideological trappings, and is in certain ways looking for new meaning. Moreover, the CCP needs to stave off the doubts of the Chinese public which question the CCP’s relevance in the 21st century. Consequently, the CCP has to bill itself as the most effective public administrator. If the CCP can instill confidence in the public, then they can dissuade them from considering untested alternative governing options.

The way the CCP maintains this legitimacy is by demonstrating the economic bounty that its stewardship has bestowed upon the people. By placating the population’s materialistic needs, the CCP has in the decades since Mao’s death diverted public attention and energy into economic, and away from political matters. Following Deng Xiaoping’s mantra that “[t]o get rich is glorious” and more recently Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”, the CCP has focused on improving quality of life. Having lifted hundreds of millions out of subsistence level poverty, Beijing has directed the population’s efforts into national building.

Guilty vs. Guilty by Association

There are two broad categories of corruption in China: a) corruption directly related to CCP policies and party organs, and b) corruption which comes about in due course in countries which experience rapid growth and demonstrate insufficient civil society and public accountability.

With regards to the first category, as long as Chinese citizens are experiencing on-going improvements in their lives, they are willing to tolerate Beijing’s heavy handed social and political policies. Yet with slowing growth, both Beijing and the populace are seeking scapegoats. Admittedly, there is widespread corruption in China, especially surrounding government programs such as the one-child policy, urban-rural residency permits, underground churches, and black market medical care. 

All these sources of corruption, with which the public are forced to deal with on a daily basis, stem from government policies. Reluctance to criticize the regime in economic boom times is a common phenomenon, yet as growth slows and discontent increases, this reluctance disappears. While China does not broadcast the fact to the greater world, or even to its own citizens, there are tens of thousands of protests in China every year. These protests overwhelmingly concern corruption and pollution. 

China’s massive party apparatus and state-supported economic development put not just the government, but the CCP itself in the firing line. In the two areas mentioned previously, the CCP is having to deal with decades of unaddressed dissatisfaction stemming from China’s ‘growth over everything’ policies. Reforming the policies which cause this systemic corruption takes time, and while Beijing is pragmatic and willing, it cannot openly admit fault: enter anti-corruption scapegoatism. By publicly announcing its anti-corruption efforts, the CCP distances itself from the issue as well as engages in a witch-hunt of lower and mid-tier party officials.

This tactic often does expose real sources of corruption, thus allowing Beijing to blame ‘a few bad apples‘ for local or provincial corruption; while ignoring the national lack of accountability and civil society under CCP rule, which created said systemic corruption in the first place. Highly public anti-corruption efforts and trials also allow the government to implement reforms as remedies against corrupt officials, as opposed as solutions to past CCP failures, thus saving face.

Xi Jinping’s recent anti-corruption drive embodies many of these elements, although it does represent a concerted, and I believe genuine, effort to stamp out corruption. While there are show-trial elements inherent in the program, Xi recognizes that championing this cause boosts his domestic image and support, as well as solidifies his control over government. Would-be opponents may think twice, as corruption within their departments or mandates may see their heads on the block in the name of accountability.

With regards to the second type of corruption mentioned above, here the CCP is – in the eyes of the public – in many cases guilty by association. Given the widespread integration of party organs in various social organizations, as well as the predominance of state-run institutions and companies, corruption in these areas indirectly tarnishes the government’s image. The public is aware of the connections these entities have to the government, so any failure by stamp out corruption ultimately directs discontent back at the regime.

Given that growth has absolute priority, the government has been more proactive in its anti-corruption efforts here. This is largely due to the fact that foreign firms, investors, and governments come into contact with the above mentioned CCP-linked entities. If China’s economic actors, and by extension the government is seen as corrupt and unwilling to tackle those who wrong foreign actors, business confidence will sink. Beijing cannot allow this to occur, and this fear drives its anti-corruption efforts. Lower business confidence mean less investment and trade which means lower growth, and hence greater discontent.

Anti-Corruption Efforts in China Going Forward

As for an anti-corruption time line, I would argue that China will continue apace with its efforts. Since China’s opening in the 1980s its main focus has been stamping out corruption in the economy, specifically the elements that deal with foreign economic activity. This area will continue to be China’s main immediate focus. This will be trickier as more economic activity is conducted by non-state corporations. Consequently, China will need to increase efforts to enshrine a culture of corporate responsibility as well create efficient regulatory mechanisms.

With regards to the first category of corruption, this ties into China’s larger domestic stability efforts. Any egregious sources of public discontent will be dealt with post-haste, while the government will continue to slowly implement systemic reforms to even longstanding policies, as seen with its recent alterations to the one-child policy, itself a major source of corruption.

The government walks a fine line in that it seeks to increase accountability and transparency in select areas, while attempting to prevent public curiosity and calls for openness penetrating where Beijing benefits from obfuscation. Ideally, Beijing looks to states such as Singapore which enjoy ultra-low levels of corruption, high transparency, and efficiency ratings, yet still maintain social and political control via a firm hand on the reins of government.

Originally written for Freedom Observatory

Thursday, 5 November 2015

One-child policy victim of China's anti-corruption drive



The gradual abandonment of the one-child policy allows China to tackle demographic, corruption, security, and economic challenges in one deft swoop; defusing discontent and saving face for Beijing.

Last week's announcement by Beijing that it will be phasing out its longstanding 'one-child policy' created headlines around the world. The one-child policy has been a fixture of China's domestic policy for decades, and became so (in)famous that it remains one of few things about Chinese politics that the general public can recall.

While commentators in the West are heralding the long overdue demise of a draconian and anachronistic policy, this is not how the issue is being perceived by Beijing. The phasing out of the one-child policy is not being billed by Beijing as an about face, but rather a reform, since the original goal of instigating a precipitous decline in population growth has been achieved. Moreover, an outright cancellation would imply that the central government made a mistake in the first place.

Instead the one-child policy has become the latest target of Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive. Fortunately for Beijing, the policy also touches on economic and stability concerns, making its reform a multifaceted boon for Beijing.

Population growth and political graft

China's fertility rate has plummeted from more than 6.16 live births per woman in the mid-1960s to just 1.66 births per woman in 2012; far below the replacement rate of 2.1. This decline was brought about via the strict enforcement of the one-child policy; an undertaking that employs 500,000 officials and led to 336 million legally mandated abortions (not including millions of 'unofficial' ones) as well as 197 million sterilizations.

The policy created an entire shadow economy consisting of black market abortion clinics, forged birth certificates, and fake medical records. Then there are also the illegal sales of contraceptive and abortion pills, underground pregnancy tests, black market human egg rackets, and the infamous fetal gender tests. Add to this all the bribes to officials to look the other way, forged government records and extortion by local authorities, and you have one of the largest sources of corruption in the country.

The one-child policy is a state program with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members often the loci of corruption. With Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive, the program is naturally a prime target, as the president has made it clear that he will not spare party organs and institutions from corruption audits.

For decades local officials have rigidly enforced birth quotas, often seizing the property of those found contravening the law, as well as using 'social maintenance fees' to plug holes in municipal and provincial budgets.

Consequently, by tackling the one-child policy and reforming it into a two-child policy, the government is seeking to cut corruption off at the source; particularly when it comes to graft surrounding second children – one of the main causes fueling rampant corruption in the program.

One-child policy spawns demographic security concerns

As result of the one-child policy, it is estimated that there are some 13 million 'ghost citizens' that exist without official documentation due to the bribing of officials. The concept of any undocumented citizens, let alone millions is security risk that Beijing cannot tolerate, as seen with China's strict rural / urban residency permits.

Furthermore, while rural residents have been allowed a second child if the first was a girl, there has long been strict enforcement of the one-child policy in rural areas. Conversely, as China's urban population becomes richer, many (relatively) wealthy urbanites have increasingly been buying their way out of the program. This trend in turn aggravates the already tense rural-urban divide in China. This relationship is one of the major sources of domestic instability, and one which is always top of mind for Beijing.

Another major concern for Beijing is the gender imbalance caused by more than four decades of the one-child policy. The traditional preference for boys – as males look after their parents and receive their wives' dowries – while girls become members of their husband's household, has caused grossly distorted gender ratio.

With a deficit of some 40 million women due to gender based abortions, the government faces a demographic time bomb as millions of young Chinese men will be unable to find a spouse. Millions of sexually frustrated, lonely, young men is a recipe for unrest. If said men recognize that their plight is due to government policies and become politicized, Beijing faces an existential crisis. After-all the government can only do so much – such as boosting military and para-military recruitment – to re-direct all that errant testosterone to serve, rather than threaten Beijing.

Policy reform ticks all the boxes for Beijing

By reforming the one-child policy, the central government can address widespread discontent with the program by framing reform in anti-corruption and economic terms; perspectives that both strengthen the legitimacy of the CCP. Firstly by framing reform in an anti-corruption light, the government can ease restrictions while diverting discontent away from the central planning that created institutional corruption in the first place. Instead corrupt local and provincial officials will be culled to satisfy public discontent and demonstrate that any excesses were due to 'bad apples'.

Successive relaxation in policy will also not result in a return to pre-policy birth rates as the dampening effects of economic development will continue to ensure small families. This combined with the fact that one child families have become a social norm, will allow Beijing to remove the source of discontent without having to worry about demographic upticks necessitating back-tracking further down the road: a perfect face-saving plan for the CCP.

Furthermore, by relaxing the policy the government can demonstrate how it has prudently guided a changing China through its successive socio-economic phases. The post-Mao CCP has demonstrated to the populace that it is nothing if not pragmatic, willing to tailor policy to serve growth above all else.

The one-child policy was instituted to prevent too much surplus labour and the attendant unrest it produces. Now as China moves towards a consumption based economic model, it needs a stable growth rate to ensure adequate numbers of consumers to fuel its next growth model.

Consequently, reforming the one-child policy is in many ways a one-size fits all salve for a host of China's systemic challenges.

Originally written for Global Risk Insights