China’s Xi Jingping came into power on a platform promising reform, modernization, and a heavy-handed crack down on corruption. At a time when many citizens around the world are questioning their governments, China is working hard to push through perhaps the largest reforms in over 20 years. Xi Jinping has banned construction of new government buildings, and China is pressing stiff charges against railway minister Liu Zhijun.
New government buildings or the remodeling of old buildings has long been an area of excess and corruption in China. Often, local leaders will commission new buildings with little input or oversight from the national government. This allows them to build both excessively luxurious buildings and also to dole out government contracts.
China’s long history of lavish, corrupt building contracts
New government buildings have become a sore spot for the Chinese government, which is trying to demonstrate that it can lead China and not succumb to corruption. Often, local leaders will build lavish buildings in poor areas, or commission expensive remodeling projects. In the past, government officials would sometimes skirt rules against remodeling projects by billing them as “repair” work.
Chinese officials at state-owned companies have also spent lavishly on company buildings. There are even rumors of government built resorts, and retreats built with government money and available to connected officials at deeply discounted prices. To hundreds of millions of poor people, these lavish spending projects are becoming a serious source of discontent. Now, however, the Chinese government is taking taking an even stricter stance.
Chinese backbone in question
Still, one might wonder if the Chinese government is serious or has the backbone to enforce its anti-corruption policies. While this is a difficult question to ponder, there have been an increasing number of high-profile charges brought against senior Chinese officials. Former Chinese rail chief XXX was given a suspended sentence in a corruption case that found him guilty of accepting over 10 million dollars in bribes.
By showing that it is willing to take on high-profile officials, the Communist Party may be able to buy the legitimacy it needs. The government may also be able to encourage government officials to think twicebefore accepting bribes. Still, the level of corruption in China may be so pervasive that it could take years to actually reform the Communist Party.
China still arresting protestors, so how serious are they about reform?
While China does appear to be making serious progress in its battle against corruption, some actions may call their sincerity into doubt. In March and April protesters in Beijing marched in the streets, demanding reform. The government responded by arresting at least sixteen activists. This may suggest that the government is not serious about reform. It could also suggest that the government views fighting corruption as an internal affair and does not want to stir the pot, or create too much public pressure.
Either way, the Chinese government may need to maintain momentum if it wishes to stay in power. The people of China are becoming increasingly forceful in their demands for reform, and unless the Communist Party is able to prove that it can meet these demands, it may find itself under intense pressure. While the Communist Party numbers over 85 million strong, only a small number of these members are closely connected and ingrained in the party itself. Many simply use the Party to gain access to job posts, resources, and other benefits. If the Communist Party wishes to remain in power in a country of some 1.2 billion people, it will need to maintain the support of the people.