Besides achieving sustainable and equitable increase in people’s living standards, the new leaders that will emerge at this Party Congress need to clean up both China’s psychical environment and its gigantic government system.
Corruption is the evil of evils in China. In the last five years, over 660,000 party and state officials were investigated and disciplined by the party and state disciplinary organisations. This suggests that nearly 10% of all civil servants had committed a crime of some sort. In 2011, the two deputy mayors of Suzhou and Hangzhou, two of China’s sub-provincial level metropolitan cities, were handed the death penalty in a single day. There have been numerous other large scale corruption cases which cannot be listed here.
It appears that China must have fought corruption vigorously, but why is it that the more the government fights corruption, the more and the bigger the cases of corruption that emerge all of the time?
My explanation of this puzzle is that fighting corruption is not an effective way of dealing with corruption. Corruption is like a kind of illness. A good doctor has to find out why people are sick, and then gives them preventive medicines rather than just prescribing curative drugs to patients when they fall ill.
Curbing corruption is like a good doctor helping his patients. Corruption should be prevented by creating a clean government, through introducing intra-party democracy and subjecting party/state officials to public scrutiny and transparent disciplinary procedures.
Officials should also disclose their number of houses, bank accounts and other personal wealth. Their relatives should not be allowed to do business, or if they do, their business activities should be disclosed to the public.
Cleaning Up the Environment
Economic development in China, while largely successful so far, has also resulted in serious environmental degradation. China has become the world’s largest manufacturer, but it has paid and will continue to pay a huge price for gaining this status. Over 70% of its water bodies have been highly contaminated; over one-third of its territorial areas are constantly subject to acid rain; and over one million people die of respiratory diseases every year.
All the major cities in China have become ‘fog cities’, and the level of pollution is far worse than in the 19th century London as described by Charles Dickens (1812-70) in his famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
In 2011, China consumed 15% more electricity than the US and was the world’s largest CO2 emitter. Compared to the US, China consumed 2.5 times the energy to produce the same amount of gross domestic product. If China is to overtake the US by 2025 but does not improve its energy consumption efficiency relative to that of the US, China will account for 50% of global CO2 emission. This is possible but disastrous, as China will have nothing to be proud of in being the world’s largest economy.
For the Chinese Communist Party, failing to deal with the three issues of people’s livelihood, corruption and environmental protection will likely see China slip into the so-called middle income trap. That is, the country will constantly suffer from social instability and political violence, and never become a rich and developed nation.
Shujie Yao is Senior Fellow in the China Policy Institute, and professor and head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.
Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.