by Jackie Sheehan

What is the Chinese for chutzpah? Whatever it is, He Guoqiang, outgoing head of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, surely has it, if he can straight-facedly claim the Bo Xilai case as a sign of success for the party’s programme to root out corruption among its officials.

He has headed the party’s anti-corruption efforts for the past five years, and his claim of “strong momentum” is based on his own term in the job. Pointing to the 660,000 officials found guilty of disciplinary violations and the 24,000 criminally prosecuted during that time as evidence of the campaign’s success, he was quoted this week by Xinhua News as saying: “The corrupt elements, no matter who they are, will be resolutely dealt with without mercy. Never let them get away from the punishment of party discipline and state laws.”

Yes, just let any CCP official step out of line, for example by stuffing his pockets with millions in public funds for nineteen years in a series of ever more senior and prominent jobs to fund his family’s lavish globe-trotting lifestyle, and the minute his wife murders a foreign national in cold blood and gets the chief of police to cover it up, only for that chief of police to flee to a foreign consulate and tell the world about it instead, the party’s anti-corruption machinery will instantly spring into action.

As has been noted before in these pages, without Wang Lijun’s revelations about Neil Heywood’s murder, Bo Xilai would still be in with an excellent chance of joining the new CCP Politburo Standing Committee this autumn. Many who remain in positions of real power at national or provincial level in China are still conspicuously living beyond their legitimate means. In Yunnan, the Metropolitan Time has just had copies pulped to suppress a story about Fujian provincial communications director Li Dejin and his ¥50,000 diamond-studded watch. With outgoing CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao only earning about £2,000 a month, enquiring minds in China wonder about the growing gap between official salaries and the kind of luxury trinkets many officials flaunt.

Away from the upper echelons, the CCP does little better with the rank and file. Those hundreds of thousands of cases in the past five years are far from reassuring, whatever spin He Guoqiang tries to put on them. If a restaurant boasted of having caught hundreds of rats in its kitchens, would we take this as evidence that it had state-of-the-art anti-vermin systems and trust to the wholesomeness of its meals? Or would we rather think, “Wow, that place has a really bad rat problem”, and go somewhere else?

Bo Xilai’s former party colleagues seem to be trying to discredit him by adding to the corruption charge sheet allegations that he had affairs with a number of women, something of which his conservative supporters who sang Cultural Revolution-era songs in Chongqing would be expected to disapprove. But I doubt even they care very much about that kind of violation of party discipline, except insofar as it provided yet another motive for stealing money from the Chongqing city treasury and accepting bribes. Had his wife not sabotaged the family business, Bo would still be doing the same thing today, and He Guoqiang would still be calling the CCP’s anti-corruption programme a success.

When the party’s top corruption fighter’s report talks about the importance of investigative journalism and an independent judiciary in exposing and preventing corruption, then it will deserve serious attention. Until then, we can file this one with the other CCP progress reports on the battle against corruption, going back to 1949 – the only thing that changes is the amounts of money involved.

Jackie Sheehan is Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute and Associate Professor of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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