The Chinese Communist Party’s new leader, Xi Jinping, made corruption the focus of his first speech to the Politburo. Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Xi warned that corruption in other countries had caused major unrest and instability.
Xi’s departure from the broad, euphemistic language often used by the Chinese leadership surprised some China watchers. It seems to mark a campaign on the part of Xi and the new cadre of leaders to achieve a rapprochement with average Chinese citizens, and to distance themselves from the past two decades of party elite.
Xi was certainly not exaggerating when he said, “In recent years, within our party there have been serious discipline violations of a very bad nature, with serious political impact.” Like most countries, China has laws in place which criminalize bribery in the public sector. Civil servants can be punished – even executed, — for abusing their positions or appropriating public property for private gain. In 2011, two significant anti-bribery events took place in China: (1) the criminal law was amended to make foreign bribery a crime, and (2) the government promised to publicize data from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s investigations of bribery allegations. And indeed, some cases have been published on the Procuratorate’s public database. A number of prominent officials have been convicted, like Lai Changxing, and ranking Communist Party official Jia Qinglin, or Xu Maiyong, Jiang Renjie, Zheng Xiaoyu and Cao Wenzhuang ,former deputy mayors and food and drug administrative officials who were convicted of accepting bribes, sentenced to death, and executed (with the exception of Cao, whose sentence was suspended).
In addition to recent cases of prosecution of individuals on domestic corruption charges, Chinese officials have occasionally prosecuted foreign companies for corrupt practices in China. Individuals from at least ten such companies have been prosecuted or are currently under investigation by the People’s Procuratorate.
The new Communist Party leader’s concern is not unjustified where foreign companies are concerned either. In recent years, there have been dozens of investigations of foreign companies suspected of paying bribes in China. The pharmaceutical industry, the entertainment industry, and other sectors, have been targeted by U.S. authorities, as well as by enforcement authorities in Europe, Australia and elsewhere in Asia. In fact, data from the TRACE Compendium indicate that more enforcement actions have involved payments in China than in any other market in the world.
Xi’s apparent determination to combat corruption on Chinese soil is a very welcome development. It will be interesting to observe how this plays out as the new Chinese leadership steps into the future.