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Party-owned, conservative, nationalist newspaper the Global Times ran a rather incendiary editorial this week arguing that corruption is so systemic in China it isn’t going anywhere fast, even with all the recent corruption crackdowns. They say the rules and salaries for government officials essentially make it impossible for them to earn a living without engaging in some form of corruption.Which happens to be a fair point. The system in China does in fact make it almost impossible for Chinese politicians to make an honest living. Among the valid points raised in the editorial:
- Public opinion doesn’t permit “high salaries” for government officials – and in the case of local leaders these salaries are often not enough to provide for basic living expenses
- Technically government officials are prohibited from entering the private sector (or utilising their social networks for financial gain) after they are done with their government jobs
- Public opinion is strongly against those who are already wealthy taking an active role in politics
It is ironic that the Global Times points to “public opinion” as the reason for two of these causes, considering that the goal of the publication (and all state and party run media) is to influence, if not control, said public opinion. These factors are more easily attributable to government and Party leaders who could alter these factors and probably win over public opinion at the same time. Especially if they actually tried to curb corruption.
Because while the points raised are good explanations for some of the root causes of corruption, they ignore many of the structural issues that contribute to the rampant levels of corruption in China. Here are some we would add (these are just a few, add your own in the comments section):
- Lack of free press makes supervision of public officials almost impossible and dangerous for reporters who are often vulnerable to the politicians they might be reporting on
- Lack of free courts also make effective, fair prosecution difficult and dangerous
- Corruption crackdowns generally have more to do with one political faction purging or attacking another than with actually fighting corruption
- Because corruption is so commonplace and visible, now, many who seek to enter the Party do so for financial and personal success rather than any sort of ideological commitment – i.e. many people only enter Chinese politics now to be corrupt
- The guanxi, or social networks, gained through participation in corruption are necessary for political advancement, so just about everybody has been involved in some sort of corruption
The editorial generated tremendous debate on the Chinese Internet, but not in its original form. The Global Times titled the piece “Fighting Corruption is a Crucial Battle for Chinese Society.” But as the China Media Project noted, the more market-oriented editorial staff at massive Chinese web portal QQ.com changed it to something a little more concise and relevant (translation from the China Media Project):
China Must Permit Some Corruption, the Public Should Understand (NOTE: it appears like the article with that title has now been taken down, which can happen VERY quickly…)
As ChinaSmack reports, another version on a different Chinese portal, NetEase, “Chinese Public Should Permit a Moderate Amount of Corruption” started an online discussion with over 250,000 participants. Many angry and many arguing that the Global Times arguments were weak excuses.
The CMP also translated the response to the new headline from Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin on his own Weibo account:
“The headline for yesterday’s Global Times editorial was, “Fighting Corruption is a Crucial Battle for Chinese Society.” In re-posting the editorial, QQ.com maliciously changed the headline to, “China Must Permit Some Corruption, the Public Should Understand”, misleading readers. The Global Times can be criticised, but if this sort of arm-twist editing is encouraged and imitated, this would be to the detriment of public opinion in China. I hope all web editors across the country do not err in opposing this way of doing things.”
We disagree with Hu. We don’t think it was malicious and we hope they continue to do what web writers do (what we do), find the most interesting, relevant piece of a story and put it up top. And Chinese readers seem to agree too:
The China Media Project highlights one QQ commenter:
“QQ.com has spoken the true import of the Global Times editorial.”
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