Articles & stories Hope and Fear Characterize China’s Anti-Graft Drive says Cheng Li

Hope and Fear Characterize China’s Anti-Graft Drive says Cheng Li
President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has caught tens of thousands of businessmen and government officials since early last year.

According to Professor Cheng Li, Director and Senior Fellow, The John L. Thornton China Center, The Brookings Institution “hope and fear characterize the Chinese people’s reaction.” 

In the War on Graft panel discussion, Li said that the drive against high-level bribery has broad popular appeal, especially among China’s growing middle class and lower-ranking military officers.

Liberal intellectuals oppose the campaign because they believe, (wrongly he said), that it is a cynical attempt by Xi to consolidate his power base. Less controversially, many senior military leaders and top party officials are frightened that their own power and wealth will be undermined.

Professor Michael Pettis of the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University said these are the “vested interests” that became a common expression used by China’s media from 2012 to describe the threat to the country’s economic reforms.”

In fact, the anti-graft drive is “not actually about corruption but about implementing an essential phase of liberalization that had been identified by China’s leadership in 2007,” he said.

The problem is that after a period of rapid, extensive economic reform, vested interests emerged that resisted reduction of their wealth and power. The former leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, encountered similar opposition after introducing enormous changes in the 1980s that dramatically launched the huge growth of the Chinese economy, said Pettis.

“Xi has to be Deng,” he said. Policy makers have understood for at least a decade that the ratio of household income-to-GDP is too low - but in order to shift wealth from the state sector to households entails a tough struggle against opponents with too much to lose.

However, some Chinese complain that the process is too slow and that the net has been cast too wide, argued Li. Economic reform and the success of his anti-corruption campaign depend on Xi’s ability to mobilize widespread support.