Corruption in China unabetted as Xi’s efforts turn futile

The recent cases of probes in the healthcare sector and military procurement indicate that corruption continues to occur in China relentlessly, hinting at the failure of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s so-called crusade against corruption. Xi himself admitted it earlier this year when he said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)- government still faced the uphill tasks of preventing new cases and rooting out existing ones.     

Xi had rolled out an aggressive anti-corruption campaign soon after he came to power in 2013. While it led to action against some officials and leaders, it appeared more focused on targeting dissidents and those who were perceived as potential threats to Xi, said SOAS China Institute director Steve Tsang. “Xi’s anticorruption campaign was a party ratification drive to remove people who are not loyal to the top leader,” Tsang said.

Phillip Saunders, director of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, said Xi uses the anti-graft campaign to avoid any dissent. “Ten years on, there’s a new generation of leaders, some of that anti-corruption fear has worn off. There’s a need periodically to re-emphasise the drive against corruption and re-emphasise politically the theme of loyalty to the party,” he said.

Shanghai-based Chinese scholar Bingyong Zheng called China one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption has plagued both the lowest levels and the highest levels of society. Even the doctors, who are said to have a high moral standard, are not an exception to it. “In TV dramas, there are model doctors who never take money from patients and they care about everybody’s conditions, but things are actually not like that. It’s just government propaganda,” said Shenshen Cai, who is a lecturer of Chinese studies. 

Political commentator Wu Zuolai said the crackdown on corruption was in line with public opinion but it ignores the biggest corruptions. Former Chinese surgeon He Anquan, who lives in the US now, spoke about the widespread corruption in the healthcare sector in China. “From the director to the attending doctors to the residents, they take kickbacks. Kickbacks are part of doctors’ decisions on which stents to use or which drugs to prescribe,” he said.

Xi has launched a probe into the procurement of military equipment as he sacked the rocket force’s commander. A few years ago, the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Guo Boxiong was found to have received bribes worth USD 12.3 million to promote subordinates.

The current shake-ups at the top military level show corruption is still rampant. “Many of these officers were involved in procuring weapons systems for the rocket force, they worked in the bureaucracy, they may have tried to influence bidding or taken bribes,” said Li Nan, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.

Chinese government lacks transparency and corruption is still a major problem in the communist country’s highly centralised system, said Han Yong Hong, associate editor at Zaobao, a Chinese-language newspaper. She said China still has an opaque system as she highlighted corruption among military and judicial officials. “The fact that there are still so many “tigers” who have lost their favour shows that corruption is indeed a longstanding problem in Chinese officialdom,” Hong said.

The ongoing investigation in the healthcare sector has become big news in China, in which CCP leaders too will be probed. According to Chinese people, doctors in China are the most corrupt after the CCP officials. Beijing-based analyst Hu Jia pointed a finger at CCP officials. “They take up about 80 percent of the nation’s medical resources, and that number is far greater than the corruption volume of doctors and hospital staff,” he said.   Corruption in China’s bureaucracy as well as the private sector was out of control thanks to the unwillingness of the CCP-ruled regime to make structural reforms, said George Peirce, senior fellow at Pennsylvania-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.  “More broadly, this downward spiral caused by corruption, coupled with an absence of political accountability, creates serious state-society tensions, especially when “institutional mechanisms for resolving them—such as the courts, the press, and government bureaucracies— are unresponsive, inadequate, or dysfunctional,” he said.