Stratfor on the Chinese anti-corruption campaign

That campaign is one of the more notable events going on in a busy and event-rich world, so it feels remiss not to cover it at all.  Here is John Minnich:

The anti-corruption campaign is one of those steps. It serves many overlapping functions: to clear out potential opponents, ideological or otherwise; to consolidate executive power and reduce bureaucratic red tape so as to ease the implementation of reform; to remind the Chinese people that the Communist Party has their best interests at heart; and to make it easier to make tough decisions.

Underlying and encompassing these, we see the specter of something else. The consensus-based model of politics that Deng built in order to regularize decision-making and bolster political stability during times of high growth and that effectively guided China throughout the post-Deng era is breaking down. It can no longer hold in the face of China’s transformation and the crises this will bring. Simply put, now that its post-1978 contract with Chinese society — a social contract grounded in the exchange of growth for stability — is up, the Party risks losing the public support and political legitimacy that this contract undergirded. A new and more adaptive but potentially much less stable model is being erected, or resurrected, from within the old. This model is grounded more firmly in the personality and prestige of the president and more capable, or so Chinese leaders seem to hope, of harnessing and managing the Chinese nation through what could well be a period of turmoil.

This does not necessarily mean a return to Imperial China, nor does it mean a return to the days and methods of the Great Helmsman, Mao. It doesn’t even mean the new model will succeed, even remotely. What it means will be decided only by the specific interplay of structure and contingency in the unfolding of history. But it is this transformation that serves as the fundamental, if latent, purpose for Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

The full piece is here, and for the pointer I thank Jim Olds.  “Be careful what kind of anti-corruption campaign you wish for…”


How come we don't have anti-corruption campaigns in the U.S.? Contemporary Americans seem to get more worked up over what some senile billionaire said to his mistress in private than over how he got to be a billionaire.

there are two historical responses by American politics to perceived corruption: populism and progressivism. but right now they pull in opposite directions.

has China ever had a popular reaction to corruption or abuse that wasn't "I wish the emperor (or Beijing) would discipline these local officials"?

There was a popular uprising a few decades back that was more the emperor wishing the people would discipline the local officials... but it didn't go so well.

Google "mass group incidents China" or spend some time in the archives at .

There are anti-corruption campaigns, but they're on a per-state, rather than national, basis and typically only make the state/local news.

Chris Christie made his chops by prosecuting corruption in New Jersey, granted that it is like shooting fish in a barrel. Chicago governors seem to all retire in prison. The Republican takeover of the house after generations of Democrat majorities back in the 90's was attributed to disgust with corruption.

This situation in China is interesting because the targets are powerful highly placed people with extensive support networks. This and the poking at the Japanese I would think show an uncertainty in the regime, they do things that galvanize support and distract attention from their failings or tenuous hold on power.

As popular as the refrain of "they're all rotten everywhere", it doesn't hold water. The US scores a 73/100 on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, making it the 19th cleanest in the world. China scores a much lower 40/100, placing it much lower at 80th in the world. There's a popular, broad-based anti-corruption campaign in China for largely there's the same reason there's a popular, broad-based anti pollution campaign: the problem is far worse and merits far more attention there then here. America really doesn't have much better politicians and plutocrats than China.

Furthermore much of what drives the comparatively little US corruption is local in nature, so it'd be silly to deal with it in a broad-based campaign. The federal government as a whole is really quite clean as a whole, and considered alone I think it would easily rank in the top 10 countries in terms of transparency. American corruption is highly concentrated in places like New Orleans, Detroit and Atlantic City. Why would Texans, Utahans or Minnesotans waste their political capital fixing a problem that doesn't affect them?

Possibly $619 billion reasons?

I take issue with Transparency International's ranking system. A lot of what would count as corruption in China is actually softer than some of the more common tricks on K Street. In many ways, lobbying in America makes the United States a flagrantly corrupt country. Just because you legalize corruption doesn't mean it's not real. And if we're going to disregard K Street because its practices are considered permissible in America, and are therefore not "real" corruption, then we should also give equal weight to Chinese culture and what counts as "real" corruption here in China.

They've been trying to signal that the anti-corruption campaign is about building the rule of law (e.g. last week when the announcement about the Zhou Yongkang investigation coincided perfectly with the announcement that the 4th Plenum this autumn will focus primarily on rule of law issues).

In my experience in countries with embedded corruption cultures, like China and India, anti-corruption campaigns by the government are generally aimed at targets of the government. Its a version of the who watchers the watchers problem. How can you make sure that the people engaged in prosecuting the corruption are not themselves corrupt? Raising ethical standards of a nation is not that simple.


I would urge everyone to read the entire Stratfor piece. It's not really about the latest anti-corruption drive, but about the difficulties China faces in shifting to a new growth model. It's actually derived from the work of Michael Pettis. Michael Pettis is (by far) the best informed economist writing about China in the English language. I have great respect for his work.

However, there is a material problem. Michael Pettis is a China-bear. He is consistently too bearish on China's economic prospects. Pettis has been predicting 3% growth for some time now. China has consistently done much better (as a standard Asian convergence model would suggest).

As a consequence, Stratfor is probably wrong in its predictions for China. One data point. The Stratfor article stated the China's exports have probably reached their limit. Check the actual data. China's exports definitely appear to be in a strong growth phase.

Yet another crackpot theory by so-called foreign experts/economist. The gap between the interests and knowledge about China is comically huge. If you cannot read Chinese directly, the best source is the South China Morning post. Stratfor should stick to the area that they are generally wrong about like middle east.

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