Prof. Zheng Yongnian: What Does China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Tell Us?

Another analysis of the corruption problem among Party and government officials in China from Prof.  Zheng Yongnian’s blog.  The continuing corruption crackdown is part of the ongoing efforts at  centralized reform ( 集中式改革) to do something about it.

 Zheng was born in Zhejiang Province,  graduated from Beijing University,  got his PhD in political science from Princeton and now teaches at Singapore National University.    Zheng’s Wiki bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_Yongnian   and Baidu Wiki bio at http://baike.baidu.com/view/947488.htm   This commentary appeared in Singapore’s  United Morning News on August 5.  

 There are many good articles on Professor Zheng’s blog at http://www.caogen.com/blog/index.aspx?ID=66

What Does China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Tell Us?

By Zheng Yongnian http://www.caogen.com/blog/Infor_detail/62054.html

August 6, 2014

With the case of former Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang having been filed and now being examined, the anti-corruption campaign underway since the convening of the Eighteenth Party Congress has is moving towards a new level of intensity.  Although people have been expecting this for some time, it also made public attention in the anti-corruption campaign even greater.

Among the various reaction and reflection being made on this case, three stand out.   First, the Zhou Yongkang case breaks with the Chinese Communist Party tradition of “leaders are not punished”.  From now on, no matter how high an official’s position, if he is corrupt then he will certainly be punished.  Second, ever since the current anti-corruption campaign started, Zhou Yongkang and Xu Caihou of the PLA has been seen by outside world as symbols of the “big tigers”.  Now that these two “big tigers” have been taken care of, some say that the anti-corruption campaign should come to a close.  Third, many people have been calling all along for putting an end to this kind of anti-corruption campaign that is conducted in the style of a political campaign.  These people say that the emphasis should turn to build a new system and that through system building and particularly by promoting rule of law, is the best way to fight corruption.

        These reactions make sense.  We need to reconsider how we do Chinese-style anti-corruption campaigns.   However, all these viewpoints do not reflect an understanding of the core issues that this anti-corruption campaign aims to resolve.   Actually, if we cannot leave behind some traditional thinking about anti-corruption work, it will be hard to do more thorough anti-corruption work and to finally achieve the political objective of creating honest government.

        First, “great men are not punished” has historically been a false proposition.  In the traditional system, except for the Emperor himself, anyone could be punished.   Throughout the history of China’s many dynasties, it has been very rare that any Emperor has had a court in which “great men” were not punished.  In Chinese political philosophy, “great man” is just an idealistic theoretical concept.  In thousands of years of Chinese history, there have been very few officials who met the philosopher’s standard of a “great man”.  China has only the concept of rule by law (法制) (this is official use law to rule the country) but not the concept of rule of law (法治)   (that is the official himself must obey the law).  Corruption and crimes committed by officials often escaped legal sanctions.  However if an official was found to threatening or challenging the dynasty itself, punishment was certain no matter how high the official’s position.  Through China’s history, it is hard to count the numbers of “great men” who have been killed by emperors.  This tradition continued after 1949 in the People’s Republic of China.  In the era before reform, Mao Zedong set off wave after wave of political campaigns.  Disaster befell many “great men”.  Not until the 1990s and the few years since have people thought that there is a “tradition” of not punishing great men.

            The very existence of this false proposition is a fraud foisted upon society and officials.  For society, this has two implications.   On one hand, all “great men” are seen as corrupt as in the expression “all officials are corrupt”.  On the other hand, “great men” cannot be punished.   Many people will express from a moral standpoint their contempt for corruption, but once they themselves get an official position or an opportunity to be corrupt, they become corrupt.   For officials, the two implications are that “great men” will not be punished or that their chances of being punished are smaller.  The other is that “great men” have a natural moral superiority and so “corruption” will not sway their actions.

For thousands of years, this false conception of corruption has in the end harmed not only imperial courts but also the interests of the state and of society.  There is a simple logic behind this.  Officials will seek all sorts of opportunities to maximize their corruption.  Law is merely a convenient tool.   A rule of law society cannot be created under those circumstances.  Regime capacity declines and they are no longer able to provide even minimal services to the people and become unable to make themselves legitimate in the eyes of the people.  Finally, as a result of the interaction of various factors, all regimes ended either in a popular uprising or in a revolution.  Even more tragic was that the new regime, after a period of honest governance, would always sink into the same kinds of corruption as before.  Throughout its history, China has been unable to escape this eternal vicious cycle.

Anti-Corruption Work Has Only Just Begun

The second idea is that once the “big tigers” have been punished that the anti-corruption campaign can come to an end.  There is some history to this idea but it has harmful consequences.  As I have written before in this column, the main goal of this anti-corruption campaign is to oppose oligarchy.   When you look at it from that perspective, the anti-corruption campaign has only just begun.  The campaign should continue and be extended into other areas of oligarchy.  The strong voices that call for anti-corruption work finish up often come from oligarchs in these other areas or from people whose interests are threatened.  They have begun to feel the pressure and worry about their futures.  Therefore they very much want anti-corruption work to “come to an end” so that they themselves won’t end up being targets.

        The voices called for it to “come to an end” also come from foreigners who benefit from corruption in China.  China’s economic development took place after opening and reform began.  Many foreign companies came to China and now have large economic interests.  In recent years, people have been discovering that these international companies with their excellent reputations are also engaged in corruption.  Not only are they corrupt themselves but they also openly search for Chinese corrupt “agents”.  There are many stories circulating about how many companies are always trying to “hire” the children and relatives of high ranking officials.  In fact, many children and relatives of high officials have become the agents of foreign companies in China.  Recently, a report published by a big foreign company stated that China’s anti-corruption campaign would reduce China’s GDP by a certain number of percentage points.  The unstated meaning is that the anti-corruption campaign should come to an end at a suitable time.

        No matter how we look at it, there should be no concept of “coming to an end” in anti-corruption work.  Anti-corruption must be the continuing task of all who govern.  Everywhere in the world, in both democracies and authoritarian states, no system can be guaranteed to be free of corruption.  Different kinds of corruption appear in different countries.  No matter what kind of corruption they face, fighting corruption is a difficult task in all countries.  In China, people often have the idea of “it coming to an end” and in practice it has often worked out that way.  The political function of anti-corruption work has often been prominent in China.  Once political authority has become well-established, anti-corruption work suddenly comes to an end.  This kind of anti-corruption campaign, after some officials have been arrested, often gives “protection” to many other corrupt officials.  Once an anti-corruption campaign begins, some officials will use various ways to get out of the storm path.  Once the storm has passed, they go back to their old ways.  Moreover, this gives the outside world the impression that anti-corruption work for the Chinese Communist Party is merely to do a political campaign for political purposes and not for the sake of establishing honest government.

            The third concept, that the anti-corruption work should focus on system building is a very attractive one and is in fact at the heart of the problem.  However, we need to be on guard against having too simple an understanding of the relationship between anti-corruption campaigns and system building.  This is an issue that needs much more thought.  System building, and especially building rule by law and rule of law, are very important forces for fighting corruption.  Nobody doubts that.  It is just that the defects in our systems leads to the corruption we see today.   Ever since reform and opening began, China has placed great stress on system building.  In fact, several generations of leaders and several government have in fact have been continually building new systems and putting in place new measures for fighting corruption and for establishing honest government.  If we consider only the number of systems and measures, China probably has more of them than any other country in the world.  But why is corruption still rampant?   We come here to an important issue – how can we create the political environment need for the construction of an anti-corruption system.  If we don’t have a basically good political environment, then any kind of anti-corruption system will be useless.

Actually, nobody has grounds for feeling the slightest bit satisfied at the progress of anti-corruption work.  Even more there should be no feeling that now is the time we can slack off a bit.  On the contrary, these cases have revealed to the people the most severe warning conceivable:  evidence of just how bad corruption has made the China’s political environment.

            The current anti-corruption campaign has made clear some very worrying trends.

Only the Tip of the Iceberg has been Discovered

First of all is the breadth of corruption.  The goal of this anti-corruption campaign is to fight both “tigers” and “flies”.   But people are discovering that “tigers” and “flies” have spread widely to every department and every level of Party and government organizations including the military.  Thus far, the anti-corruption campaign has only affected a few departments.  However, from the extent of corruption in those departments, it is easy for people to conclude that the corruption discovered up to the present is only the tip of the iceberg.

Next comes the issue of the depth of corruption.  Corruption has already penetrated to the power centers at every level of leadership.  The corruption of local “top leaders” is nothing new.  For many years it has been the biggest headache of the regime.  But today corruption has already penetrated the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee and the Central Military Commission – that is the very core of the Central Committee of the ruling party.  What will be the consequences of corruption at the power centers?  That is a question in everyone’s mind.

        The third issue is the number of corruption cases.  Without getting into other forms of corruption as for example the abuse of power and infringing on the human rights of the people, if we just address the economic scale of corruption, the scale of official corruption has become so large that it goes beyond rational understanding.  People can comprehend that someone might steal several millions or tens of millions because that amount of money can be put to practical use such as a luxurious lifestyle or purposes such as accumulating some wealth for the next generation.  However, when corruption reaches the scale of billions, tens of billions or even hundreds of billions, this is not something that we can comprehend.  That is because that amount of money does not have instrumental use.  In fact, even the corrupt person can’t understand that vast a scale of corruption.

Fourth, and even more important, is that today’s corruption has an oligarchic nature.  That does not mean that there is an oligarch behind every corruption case.  Many cases of corruption on the “fly” level do not involve that.  However, oligarchic corruption has already become the main form of corruption in China today.  During the process of transition from the planned economy to the market economy, economic oligarchs become a reality.  In that respect, China resembles the transitional society of some former communist states such as the Russian Federation, Ukraine and of Eastern Europe.  Moreover, economic oligarchy is a problem facing most countries of the world now.  The problem in China is that these economic oligarchs have started to transform themselves into political oligarchs.   When economic oligarchs mobilize their vast resources to interfere in politics, the overall interests and even the survival of the ruling party are directly threatened.  In recent years, many of the challenges of high level politics have been connected to oligarchs.

        Heretofore, leaders have all said corruption is a matter than can destroy the Communist Party and destroy the state.  However, people have understood this as simply a warning to civil servants and officials.  However the corruption cases revealed now deliver a clear message.  The process of corruption “destroying the Communist Party and destroying the state” is definitely already underway.   Clearly, if this problem is not resolved, we are not far away from the point where the Communist Party and the state will be destroyed.  Even more important, after the Communist Party and the state have been destroyed, China will not be able to avoid becoming what Westerners call a “failed state” and a hopeless society.   This has happened before in history.

Some Chinese Communist Party members used to say this about reform — if it (the Communist Party) does not reform, it will be destroyed and if it reforms, it will be destroyed even faster.  That is making excuses for corruption and is just an excuse for leaders to shirk their responsibilities.   Communist Party governance does have another characteristic however.   As long as the leaders are strongly determined to fight corruption, they will be able to mobilize far more people than the profiteers and the oligarchs can.   Overcoming their strong resistance and pushing forward reforms is the way to create a regime that can govern in peace indefinitely.  Today China has already taken the first step.  I am confident that it can continue moving forward.

郑永年  

中国模式 – 郑永年首页

中国反腐败运动揭示什么?

2014-08-06

随着前中共政治局常委周永康被立案审查,中共十八大以来的反腐败运动走向了一个新的高潮。尽管这件事情人们等待已久,但仍然引出了人们对中国反腐败运动的新一轮的关注。

  在各种各样的反应和反思中,有三点显得特别显著。第一,周永康案终于打破了中共“刑不上大夫”的传统,从今以后,不管官员的地位有多高,只要发现腐败,就一定会得到惩处。第二,自从这次反腐败运动开始以来,周永康和军中的徐才厚一直被外界视为是“大老虎”的标志性人物。现在随着这两只“大老虎”的被处置,反腐败运动应当告一个段落了。第三,也有很多人一直在呼吁,有关部门应当停止这一政治运动式的反腐败运动,把重点转向建立新的制度,因为通过制度建设尤其是法治建设,反腐败才是最牢靠的。

  这些反应并非没有道理,对中国式反腐败运动的反思也很重要。不过,这些都并没有理解这次反腐败所要解决的核心问题。实际上,如果人们不能超越反腐败问题上的一些传统思维,就很难把反腐败运动深入下去,最终实现建设清廉政府的政治目标。

  首先,“刑不上大夫”历来就只是一个假命题。在传统体制下,除了皇帝,谁都可以上刑,历朝历代,很少能够发现一个朝廷没有对“大夫”上刑的。在中国的政治哲学中,“大夫”只是一个理想的理论假设,数千年的历史中,符合“大夫”哲学标准的官员少而又少。中国只有“法制”的观念(即官员使用法律来统治国家),而没有“法治”的观念(即官员自身也必须服从法律)。官员腐败和犯罪经常能够逃避法律的制裁。不过,任何官员一旦被发现对王朝本身构成危害和挑战的时候,不管其地位有多高,“上刑”是必然的结果。历史上,皇帝所杀的“大夫”难以计数。这种传统也延续到1949年之后的中华人民共和国。在改革开放之前的年代,毛泽东发动了一波又一波的政治运动,又有多少的“大夫”遭殃呢!只有到了上世纪90年代之后的短暂时间里,才有现在人们所谓的“刑不上大夫”的“传统”。

  实际上,这个假命题的存在,于社会、于官员都是一种欺骗。于社会,这里隐含着两方面的暗示,一方面,所有“大夫”都是腐败的,所谓的“无官不贪”;另一方面,“大夫”们是不会得到惩治的。很多社会成员,在道德上往往对腐败表现出深恶痛绝,但一旦自己得到一个官位或者腐败的机会,照样腐败。于官员,这个概念也隐含了两个暗示,一方面,“大夫”的腐败不会得到惩罚或者得到惩罚的机会比较少;另一方面,“大夫”具有天然的“道德优越”性,“腐败”无足轻重。

  数千年以来,在腐败方面的这些虚假的认知,最终的受害者便是朝廷,或者是国家和社会的整体利益。逻辑很简单,官员找各种机会腐败,追求腐败的最大化;法律仅仅只是一种方便的政治工具,法治社会建立不起来;政权能力低下,既没有能力为老百姓提供最低限度的服务,也没有能够在老百姓眼中确立合法性;最终在各种因素互相影响之下,都会以老百姓造反或者革命的方式来结局。更为可悲的是,新确立的政权在最初清廉一段时间之后,也往往走向同样的腐败。这是中国历史的一个永远走不出来的恶性循环。

  反腐败其实刚刚开始

  第二种观点,即在“大老虎”被惩治之后,反腐败运动应当告一个段落了,有其深刻的背景,其结果也是有害的。本栏曾经论述过,这次反腐败的主题是反寡头。从这个角度来说,反腐败其实刚刚开始,应当继续延伸到其他更多的寡头领域。力主反腐败应当告一个段落的声音,往往来自这些其他寡头领域,或者既得利益。他们开始感觉到压力,忧虑自己的未来,因此非常希望反腐败能够告一个“段落”,不会动到他们的头上去。

  “告一段落”的声音也来自海外在中国的既得利益。中国的经济发展是在开放状态下取得的,众多的国际大公司也已经在中国确立了庞大的既得利益。近年来,人们不断发现,这些在国际上享有良好声誉的国际公司也在中国践行腐败。不仅自己腐败,而且更是公然地在中国寻找腐败的“代理人”。很多公司一直在公然“招聘”中国高干子弟的故事广为流行,大量的高干子弟也的确已经成为外国公司的中国代理人。前不久,更有外国大公司出版分析报告说,中国的反腐败运动会拖累中国经济多少个百分点。言外之意就是说,反腐败运动要适可而止了。

  反腐败的确会影响到经济,例如官员的公费消费下降了,那些通过行贿等不正当手段的投资项目减少了等等。不过,这些只涉及到短期的微小调整,长远来说可以营造经济可持续发展的理想环境。不管怎样,没有人希望中国经济增长是建立在腐败之上的,也没有人会相信腐败可使中国的经济增长实现可持续性。

  无论从哪个角度来看,反腐败不应当有“段落”的概念,这应当是所有执政者一件永恒的事业。在世界范围内,今天无论是民主政体还是权威政体,没有一个制度可以保障不出现腐败,不同国家面临不同形式的腐败,但一样都面临着反腐败的艰巨任务。在中国,人们经常存在“段落”的观念,实践上也经常是这样。反腐败因此往往突出其政治功能,等到现政权巩固权力了,反腐败运动就会嘎然而止。这种反腐败运动在抓了一批官员之后,往往为更多的腐败官员提供了“庇护”。运动一来,一些官员就想各种办法来避风,一阵风过去之后,照样腐败。同时,这种观念也给外界一种印象,即中共的反腐败仅仅是为了政治需要的政治运动,而并非要建立清廉政府。

  第三个观点,即反腐败的重点在于制度建设,这很有吸引力,也的确是问题的关键。不过,对反腐败运动和制度建设之间的关系不能做简单的理解,而是要做更多的反思。制度建设尤其是法制和法治的建设,对反腐败最为重要,没有人会怀疑这一点。正是各项制度的不健全,才导致了今日的腐败。不过,改革开放以来,也很难说中国没有强调制度建设。事实上,中国历届领导层和历届政府,都想在反腐败和建立廉洁政府方面有所作为,并且也一直在增加反腐败的力度,并不断增加反腐败的制度机制。从反腐败所设置的机构数量来说,中国可以说已经是世界上最庞大的。但为什么腐败还是我行我素呢?这里涉及到一个更为重要的问题,即反腐败制度建设的政治环境问题,在没有一个基本良好的政治环境的时候,任何反腐败的制度建设都会无济于事。

  实际上,人们没有任何理由可以为近来反腐败所取得的进展,感到一点点高兴,更不应该感觉轻松起来。恰恰相反,这些案例的揭露已经向人们提出了最为严重的警告:腐败已经使中国的政治生态恶化到什么程度了?

  这次反腐败运动到目前为止,已经揭示出几个非常令人担忧的趋势。

  被发现的仅冰山一角

  首先是腐败的广度。这次反腐败的目标是既打“老虎”,也打“苍蝇”,但人们发现“老虎、苍蝇”已经扩展到包括军队在内的各个部门和各级党政机构。到今天为止,反腐败运动还只是涉及到有限的几个部门,但从这些部门腐败的广度来看,人们不难得出结论,现在所发现的腐败仅是冰山一角。

  其次是腐败的深度。腐败已经深入到各级领导的权力核心。地方“一把手”腐败的情形并不新鲜,也是很多年来当局一直最为头痛的关切对象。但现在的腐败已经深入到政治局常委和中央军委,也就是执政党中央的核心领域。权力核心的腐败的结局是什么?这是一个谁都明白的问题。

  其三是腐败的数量。且不说其他方面的腐败,例如权力滥用、侵犯老百姓人权等,光是就腐败所涉及的经济规模来说,官员的腐败已经不是人类理性所能理解的了。人们可以理性地假定,贪污数百万甚至几千万还可以理解,因为这个数量还可以体现出一些具体的功用,例如过着豪华奢侈的生活,为下一代积累一些“财富”等。但当腐败涉及到数十个亿、数百亿、甚至数千亿的时候,就不是人类理性所能理解的,因为这个数量已经没有任何具体的功用。实际上,这样的腐败数量恐怕连这些腐败者自己也不能理解。

  其四,也更为重要的是,现在的腐败具有寡头性质。这并不是说,所有的腐败案例都具有寡头背景,很多“苍蝇”层面的腐败并非如此。不过,寡头腐败已经成为今天中国腐败的主要形式。在从计划经济到市场经济的转型过程中,经济寡头俨然已经成为现实。在这个方面,中国和其他前共产主义转型社会例如俄罗斯、乌克兰和东欧的一些国家并无多少差别。同时,经济寡头也是世界上大多数国家所面临的共同问题。中国的问题在于,这些经济寡头要开始转型到政治寡头。当经济寡头动用其庞大的经济力量来干预政治时,执政党的整体利益甚至生存就面临直接的挑战。这些年来,高层政治所面临的很多挑战都和寡头有关。

  之前,历届高层领导也都会说,腐败要亡党亡国,但当时人们对此的理解是,这样说无非是要对干部官员做一个警告作用。不过,现在所揭露出来的腐败案例,已经向人们传达一个明确的信息——由腐败所导致的“亡党亡国”过程的确已经开始。很显然,如果不整治,离亡党亡国也就不远了。更为重要的是,亡党亡国之后,中国不可避免地要演变成为西方所说的“失败国家”和一个无奈的社会。这种情形在历史上并不是没有发生过。

  从前中共党内有一个流行的观念,即(共产党)不改革要亡,改革也要亡,而改革比不改革亡得更快。这既是对腐败最好的辩解,更是执政者不负责任的推辞。可是,中共政治还有一个显著特点,那就是只要领导者对反腐败有坚强的意志,就能动员起远远大于既得利益和寡头的能力,克服后者的强大阻力,把改革推向前去,实现长治久安。今天,中国已经走出了第一步,也相信能够继续走下去。

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