Communist Party clamps down on graft ahead of anniversary


WITH JUST a week to go until China’s Communist Party celebrates its 90th anniversary, the leadership has announced plans for better supervision of cadres as it battles the greatest threat to one-party rule – corruption.

The Communist Party has 78 million members and in its nine decades of life has worked its way into the fabric of society. Since 1949, it has overseen China’s ascent to becoming the world’s second-largest economy. It has lifted millions out of poverty, put men into space and dramatically boosted China’s international standing.

Critics say China’s rise under the Communist Party has come at the expense of individual freedoms, with no dissent allowed, and they say rising wealth could undo authoritarian rule in China.

Certainly the party is worried about corruption. Graft appears to be getting worse and the Beijing leaders are worried it could threaten political stability.

Wu Yuliang, deputy secretary of the party’s powerful administrative body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said this week that 146,517 people were given disciplinary punishments last year and 5,373 were transferred to judicial agencies for criminal proceedings.

Clampdowns on corruption have become an annual event, but it is proving difficult to shake graft among cadres.

Mr Wu said investigations had paid special attention to embezzlement and bribery by officials; breach of discipline and violation of laws in key sectors; and abuse of power and corruption cases related to serious accidents and mass incidents.

Last year China experienced 280,000 of what Beijing calls “mass incidents”, including petitions, demonstrations and strikes, both peaceful and violent. These were largely linked to anger over corruption and other forms of abuse of power such as illegal land seizures. The figure marks a steep rise from 2005, when there were 87,000 incidents.

A major bugbear among people in China is the issue of cadres fleecing local government coffers and absconding overseas. A report by the Chinese central bank last week said thousands of officials had stolen more than €84 billion and fled overseas since the mid-1990s, mostly to North America.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the issue of corrupt officials fleeing overseas,” said Mr Wu, who said the figures were exaggerated. “We have conducted many campaigns to catch those officials and return their money.”

China was “strengthening international co-operation in law enforcement to catch and prevent corrupt officials from fleeing abroad”, he added.

A major part of the anniversary celebrations is the propaganda film, Beginning of the Great Revival, which features 170 stars, including Hong Kong actors Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau, and follows the events that led to the founding of the party in 1921.

Communist purists are annoyed by a scene in the film where Mao Zedong is given a gold Omega fob watch by his girlfriend. Use of the Swiss brand seems quite a leap from the revolutionary spirit that inspired the Long March.

There was also some anger in the US that the film was being sponsored by General Motors, which was bailed out with government cash two years ago. The irony of Cadillacs being involved in a film about the Communist Party says a lot about China today.

Despite these setbacks, confidence is riding high among the party faithful, given that the economy continues to expand and China’s influence continues to grow. “Over the last 90 years, especially the last 30 years of reform and opening up, we have made major achievements. This is something the world basically recognises,” Li Zhongjie, a senior figure at the party’s History Research Centre, said recently. “The Communist Party has built China to what it is today.”

The party’s resilience is impressive. Under Chairman Mao, China endured disasters such as the 1958 Great Leap Forward agricultural reform campaign. This resulted in a three-year famine during which an estimated 30 million died.

To ensure its grip on power stays firm, the Communist Party has ruled out anything that might resemble multi-party democracy.

There is no such a thing as an “independent candidate” as it is not recognised by law, the leadership warned after a handful of “independent candidates” put themselves forward online to stand in forthcoming local elections.

It was the latest evidence that the leadership wants tight political control as it prepares for a succession next year from Chinese president Hu Jintao to his presumed heir, vice-president Xi Jinping.

Peaceful transition of power is another achievement of which the party is particularly proud, and a jealously guarded one it is too.