Combating corruption no longer lip service, reports Asia Sentinel’s Steve Wang

Fresh off their selection as the country’s top leaders, Chinese President-in-line Xi Jinping, Premier-to-be Li Keqiang and Wang Qishan, named to head up the country’s the powerful anti-corruption body, are wasting no time setting out to seek rein in corruption and reorganize the government.

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping. Pic: AP.

It is debatable which issue is the most important to the leadership. But certainly the speed at which scandal-ridden officials are being axed appears unprecedented. Some 63 hours after a crooked Chongqing officer appeared on the web in a sex video, he was stripped of his title. And today, according to a report in the South China Morning Post, Li Chuncheng, 56, named an alternate member of the party Central Committee just last month, became the first senior official to be targeted the an anti-corruption drive. Li earlier had been considered to become the governor of Henan. Chinese officials have also asked Macau gaming officials to step up scrutiny of money transfers – probably vainly, given past history – and have told them that tougher regulation will be introduced.

Is this the 2012 political version of Strike Hard? In 2010, police across the country opened a massive seven-month crackdown to curb rising crimes and ease escalating social conflict, targeting extreme violent crime, gun and gang crime, telecom fraud, human trafficking, robbery, prostitution, gambling and drugs.

Certainly, cleaning out political corruption is an issue that is regarded as crucial to maintaining – or rebuilding – the Communist Party’s soiled reputation. Widely reported figures have cited billionaires among the party’s top leadership. Despite attempts to crack down on Internet criticism, specific examples of corruption and abuse of power make their way onto the Web almost daily.

All three of the top leaders are have publicly made combating corruption a top priority. Xi said after his appointment last month that corruption was an urgent problem and warning that the issue could cost the party its hold on power or risk major social unrest unless widespread corruption was curbed. He himself is reported to have been appointed to shepherd the case of Bo Xilai, the ousted former chief of Chongqing, who is now awaiting trial.

It should be noted that every new leader comes in with a Strike Hard mandate and that they usually leave in defeat – even Zhu Rongji, the incorruptible premier who made it a personal crusade to clean up corruption and smuggling. Hundreds of officials are arrested and jailed, occasionally one or two is shot, then a system in which bribery, kickbacks, embezzlement, and theft of public funds are a way of life, along with rent-seeking through the granting by government officials of licenses or monopolies to favorite clients.

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