In my CNN.com blog post, I argue that if Xi Jinping’s top down approach is not matched by a bottom-up empowerment of the people being most harmed by China’s corruption pandemic it will have little chance of success. When Chinese media reports critically on the vast wealth accrued by the families of former Chongqing leader Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, and others, it’s easy to remember the Bloomberg and New York Times reports on the millions of dollars held by Xi’s and former Premier Wen Jiabao‘s families. And no one believes that China’s government leaders, among the wealthiest in the world, are getting rich from their salaries alone.
For Xi, cracking down on the likes of Zhou in the name of anti-corruption removes his most powerful rivals, demonstrates power consolidation, and is good public relations. But ultimately, corruption in China is not a cancer on the system, it is the essence of it. As long as the party remains above the law with zero transparency or public accountability, leaders like Zhou are expelled while others have amassed far greater spoils are exempt, and Chinese citizens are sent to jail for protesting official corruption or advocating that China live up to its own constitution, that problem will remain.
If, on the other hand, Xi is serious about addressing corruption, he will need to push the kinds of political reforms required to facilitate bottom-up pressure for accountability and good governance – rule of law, sunshine and disclosure legislation, a free press, conflict of interest rules, supporting non-governmental watchdog groups, empowering the public, etc. Ultimately, but not necessarily immediately, the Chinese Communist Party will need a mandate by the people conferred through meaningful elections.