China’s new leader warns against corruption

Xi Jinping, barely a week into his new role, tells top officials to fight corruption or risk ruining the country.

President Hu Jintao (R) handed over the reigns to Xi Jinping, newly-elected head of the Communist Party [Reuters]
President Hu Jintao (R) handed over the reigns to Xi Jinping, newly-elected head of the Communist Party [Reuters]

China’s new leader Xi Jinping has warned officials that they must fight corruption or risk ruining the country, strong words that come after a series of corruption investigations targeted high-level leaders in recent years.

Xi told the new 25-member Politburo that the party must be vigilant against graft, noting that corruption in other countries in recent years had prompted major social unrest and the collapse of governments, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

“The large number of facts tells us that if the problem of corruption becomes increasingly severe, it will lead to the ruin of the party and the country,” Xi said.

In his remarks, Xi dwelled at length on the importance of the party’s theoretical foundations in Marxism, Leninism and the ideas espoused by his predecessors, and said leaders had to be mindful of the practical realities of running the country and reconnecting with the population.

“In recent years, within our party there have been serious discipline violations, the nature of which has been very bad, with a terrible political impact, causing much alarm,” said Xi, who took over as China’s Communist Party leader last Thursday.

Xi’s language was unusually direct for a top leader, indicating his seriousness about the problem, but his speech gave few indications of how the party could better police itself, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University.

‘Strong words’

“He used strong words. It was clearly a warning: `We have to do something about this’,” Cabestan said.

“Clearly, for him, the crux of the matter is corruption.”

The trouble is, of course, that he doesn’t tell us much about what are going to be the efficient tools or weapons he will put together to fight corruption.”

Xi urged officials at all levels to obey anti-corruption regulations and to better limit their relatives or associates from abusing their influence for personal gain, but he gave no indication of any independent mechanism for investigating graft.

The party, which controls courts, police and prosecutors, has proved feeble in policing itself yet does not want to undermine its control by empowering an independent body to do so.

Some officials have been required to report income, real estate holdings and other wealth to their superiors since 2010, but the measure has done little to staunch the graft.

However, corruption investigations targeted high-level leaders in recent years, most notably former Politburo member Bo Xilai, who was purged this year after an aid disclosed that his wife murdered a British businessman.

Bo is accused of obstructing the investigation into the murder as well as unspecified corruption while in office.

Foreign media reports in recent weeks also have documented massive wealth accumulated by Chinese leaders’ families.

New leadership

Xi took over as China’s top leader last Thursday when he assumed the posts of party leader and head of the military commission from outgoing leader Hu Jintao.

Hu will retain the title of president – the ceremonial head of state – until next spring when he hands that position over to Xi as well.

Xi and other party leaders have often reiterated that more needs to be done to root out deep-seated corruption in China that threatens the ruling Communist Party’s legitimacy.

Xi also emphasized the need to narrow the gap between the party and the people in what seemed like an implicit critique of his predecessors, said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Lam said Xi’s frequent references to “the people” in his speech indicated that “the past two decades have resulted somehow in the people feeling alienated from the party”.

“Now what he’s saying is that from day one is that we shall stick to the people. We will do what the people want,” Lam said.

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