China Policy Institute: Analysis



China and the UN Convention Against Corruption: A 10- year appraisal

Written by Konstantinos Tsimonis.

The tenth anniversary of China’s ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) offers a timely opportunity for an appraisal of its engagement with the global anticorruption regime. Two questions are important in this regard. Has China’s socialization in the UNCAC framework initiated the adaptation of its anti-corruption policies to international standards and best practices promoted by the Convention? And what is China’s role in UNCAC’s institutionalisation  process? 

UNCAC is the most comprehensive international anticorruption instrument. Its 71 articles, compared to just 17 in the OECD Anti-bribery Convention, significantly expand the definition of corrupt activities, provide a framework for states to address cross-border corruption, and create a platform for international and bilateral cooperation in asset recovery and extradition. The Convention has 140 signatories and includes key countries, notably China and India.  Continue reading “China and the UN Convention Against Corruption: A 10- year appraisal”

Corruption and the Death Penalty

Written by Bin Liang.

On Monday, July 4, 2016, Ling Jihua was sentenced to life imprisonment by the No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of taking bribes, illegally obtaining state secrets and for abuse of power. Upon hearing his sentence, Ling read aloud from a prepared script stating that he did not contest the conviction and “thanked” the court and the lawyers for their work. Ling is a former Chinese politician and one of the principal political advisers of Hu Jintao, the former President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He served as the Director of the General Office of the Communist Party from 2007 to 2012, and was seen as a promising candidate for promotion to the top leadership at the 18th Party Congress in 2012.

Continue reading “Corruption and the Death Penalty”

As Chen Yunlin Falls From Grace, Beijing Shows It Still Doesn’t Get Taiwan

Written by J. Michael Cole.

According to reports in Taiwanese media on 4 September, China’s former point man on Taiwan affairs, Chen Yunlin, may have become the latest target of President Xi Jinping’s “anti-corruption” campaign. In an odd twist, Chen also appears to be blamed for stalled progress in cross-strait relations and Beijing’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese.

In the current political environment in China, there is nothing overly surprising about the former head of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) and ex-chairman of the semiofficial Association For Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS)—as well as his spouse, Lai Xiaohua—coming under scrutiny by the  Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) for possible misappropriation of funds. The Chinese system is such that virtually any official will at some point have done things that constitute corruption. Under President Xi, such infractions are then investigated and brought to light whenever an official has fallen out of favour, a process rise and fall that is reminiscent of the fate of many an official under the U.S.S.R.’s Joseph Stalin.

Far more interesting is the fact that revelations that Chen is being investigated come to light amid a series of internal reports, requested by Mr. Xi, into the reasons why the unification of Taiwan remains as elusive a goal today as it was seven years ago before the “China friendly” Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency in Taipei and launched a series of measures to improve ties with Beijing. Mr. Chen was deputy head and then head of the TAO during the Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian presidencies, and headed ARATS from 2008 until 2013. Conceivably, it the 2008-2013 timeframe constituted the critical period in cross-strait relations, with the signing of several agreements, the opening of tourism, and the relaxation of various rules concerning investment and exchanges between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. As chief negotiator, Mr. Chen visited Taiwan in November 2008, sparking mass protests and arguably sowing the seeds of future action by civil society against the government’s dealings with China.

According to the high-level sources quoted in the local media, Mr. Xi ordered the reports after the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) unexpectedly poor performance in the 29 November 2014 “nine in one” local elections, in which it also lost control of Taipei City. Mr. Xi and his close entourage reportedly were fed poor intelligence about the KMT’s prospects in the race and were taken aback when the KMT was pummelled at the polls. The KMT’s Sean Lien, the closest thing to a Taiwanese “princeling” who like his father, Lien Chan, enjoys a close relationship with officials in Beijing, fared poorly in Taipei against Ko Wen-je, a political neophyte who was running as an independent.

What has also troubled Beijing has been the lack of palpable progress on the “re-unification” front, a situation that was driven home when tens of thousands of student-led protesters in March and April 2014 occupied and surrounded the Legislative Yuan in Taipei to block implementation of the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) and a subsequent Trade-in-Goods Agreement. Though it may have come as a surprise to Beijing, the Sunflower Movement was both a manifestation and source of a new identity among the Taiwanese which emerged in large part due to the greater contact that had occurred between China and Taiwan since 2008. President Ma, whose ability to deliver what Beijing wanted was already weighed down by democratic checks and balances, never fully recovered from the occupation. From that moment on, progress in cross-strait relations not only lost its momentum: it practically came to a standstill. As a result, Beijing increasingly showed signs of impatience and accused the Taiwan side of dragging its feet, such as on the planned opening of reciprocal representative offices.

Initially, the individuals who were asked to prepare a report for Mr. Xi explaining what had gone wrong blamed this on the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which presumably had “misled” the Taiwanese. Mr. Xi would have none of it and ordered that the drafters return to the drawing board. After several iterations, the approved report drew an accusatory finger at Chen Yunlin, who supposedly had relied “too heavily” on personal networks and contacts in the business community (evidently this would have greatly facilitated the corruption he stands accused of). The conclusion of the report was that Chen Yunlin’s “comprador”-based approach to cross-strait relations had failed to convince the Taiwanese of the material benefits of “peaceful” relations with Beijing and had in fact backfired by creating mounting resentment against China.

In other words, Chen Yunlin had “lost Taiwan,” and by becoming highly unpopular, President Ma had contributed to that outcome.

For all his faults, Mr. Chen is being unfairly accused by a regime that, despite multiple occasions to learn from Taiwan’s open society, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the drivers of Taiwan’s distinct identity. Beijing seems to regard the trend lines that indicate a rising self-identification as Taiwanese and single-digit support for unification as a sign that it—the TAO, ARATS—has failed to properly communicate with the Taiwanese people and explain why its Taiwan policy, which is largely influenced by a belief in economic determinism, should be embraced by its 23 million people. The problem is that Beijing appears to have become a victim of its own propaganda, a phenomenon that may have been exacerbated by the authoritarian nature of its political system which discourages officials from providing their superiors with information that doesn’t fit the accepted model.

The reality is that most Taiwanese, even if few have actually reaped the benefits, already have a pretty good idea of the material advantages that might accrue from closer economic ties with China. However, while most are amenable to liberalized economic ties, only a very small number of them are willing to sacrifice their nationalism at the altar of economics. Thus, even if the segment of Taiwanese society that benefits from closer economic ties with China were substantially enlarged, it is unlikely that this would have a major incidence on self-identification and desire for unification. No amount of suasion by TAO or ARATS officials will change the fact that “Taiwanese consciousness” is informed not only by the island-nation’s separate rule since 1895 but, increasingly, by a “civic nationalism” that draws from Taiwan’s liberal democracy and the public expectations of transparency, fair play, justice, and accountability, all of them key ingredients of the Sunflower Movement recipe. For some reason, the leadership in Beijing, as well as those who keep it informed about developments in Taiwan, have failed to treat economic matters and nationalism as one and the same, or assume that the former could have primacy, and eventually substitute for, the latter. Although Mr. Chen may have played a role in reinforcing the myopia (and it is not inconceivable that his partners in Taiwan misled him into believing that he was on the right track), he can hardly be singled out for being wrong about Taiwan.

Thus as he faces investigation and a fall from grace, Mr. Chen stands as a convenient fall guy for a Taiwan policy that drew from the centre’s ideology and which never had a chance of succeeding. Mr. Chen may fall into oblivion (or worse, end up in jail), but as long as Beijing remains unable to appreciate the dynamics of Taiwanese identity, his successors at the TAO and ARATS will continue to get it wrong, and all of them will also one day stand accused of “losing Taiwan.”

Michael Cole is a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the China Policy Institute, an Associate researcher with the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) and Editor in Chief at Thinking Taiwan. Image Credit: CC by VIA Gallery/Flickr.

Medical corruption in China: the views of the general public.

Written by Neil Munro.

China’s public hospitals are notorious for such unethical practices as offering treatment and diagnostic tests which are not medically indicated and taking extra payments (such as the ‘hongbao’ or ‘red envelope’). Such practices present patients and their families with a dilemma: how to ensure that doctors offer, at a reasonable price, the same quality of care as they would for their own family? Citizens have available a variety of strategies to deal with this kind of “agency risk”, varying from passive to active, from the universal to the particular, and, in Hirschman’s terms, between exit, or changing providers, voice, or seeking to change the terms of the relationship with an existing provider, and loyalty, or just doing as the provider says. Data from a nationwide survey carried out in China in the winter of 2012-13 provides us with the opportunity to examine two questions. Firstly, how likely do Chinese citizens perceive unethical practices to be in their local hospitals; and secondly, what strategies do they prefer to deal with the agency dilemma. Citizens’ preferences reveal a great deal about the health care system—to what extent patients are disempowered, how modern the system is in the Weberian sense, how flexible provider behaviour is and to what extent market mechanisms provide an exit from the agency dilemma.

The Chinese health care authorities have been struggling with unethical practices in the health care system for more than thirty years. During the 1980s, they focussed on developing a normative framework for medical ethics, and on different methods of institutionalizing it in hospitals and health care administration more broadly. During the 1990s, medical ethics were made a compulsory part of physicians’ professional education. But the development of ethics training coincided with market reforms in the health care system, which changed the nature of the doctor-patient relationship. The essential problem was not marketization per se but distortions of the market caused by government policies, which set the price of medical labour below cost, whilst encouraging hospitals to make money from drug sales and diagnostic procedures. To make up their meagre salaries, doctors relied on bonus payments linked to the amount of revenue they generated for their department. The aspirational declarations in medical ethics codes were in direct conflict with the real incentive structures which exacerbated price inflation and unethical practices.

The health care authorities have been struggling to find a way to change these incentive structures without taking on too much of the costs of delivering health care. At primary care level, they began paying primary health care providers a fixed per capita fee to deliver a defined package of basic public health services.  Furthermore, they introduced a zero-profit drug policy and tied the allocation of public health budgets to annual performance assessments. However, the Gordian knot is in reforming public hospitals, which provide 90% of inpatient and outpatient services. Based on the results of experiments in a number of cities, the Ministry of Health has started to implement case-based charging with treatment protocols.  They also introduced a National Essential Medicines List with capped prices, extended the zero-profit drug policy to county hospitals, and begun to raise the prices of hospital services. It has also redoubled its efforts to strengthen the ethics of the health care industry. However, in nearly all Chinese cities, hospitals still retain their profits and physicians’ income is linked to profits.

Our survey shows that unethical practices commonly reported in the media are perceived as widespread by the public as well. Sixty-one percent consider it likely that in their local hospital patients will be required to undergo comprehensive check-ups even when the diagnosis is perfectly clear. Fifty-seven percent consider unnecessary prescription of medicines not covered by insurance to be very or somewhat likely. Thirty per cent consider taking bribes or the aforementioned ‘hong bao’ to be likely. Seventy-two percent of respondents see at least one form of unethical behaviour as likely.

Our survey prompted respondents to recommend a course of action to minimize agency risk in three different situations. The first question concerned a surgeon who tells the patient that he cannot guarantee the success of a life-saving operation. Whilst this may be a perfectly ethical and responsible thing to say, we were interested in how many respondents would interpret it as a cue to do something to minimize agency risk. Only one third of respondents said they would recommend just undergoing the operation at one’s own risk. Just over a quarter of respondents recommended changing to another public hospital. One in ten would use connections to find another surgeon. If a doctor prescribes a lot of expensive medicine which is not covered by insurance, even when cheaper alternatives are available, slightly less than a quarter of respondents would just buy the medicine prescribed. The same number would ask the doctor to change it. Just over one in eight recommend changing to another public hospital. If a public hospital requires unnecessary diagnostic tests, slightly less than one third would recommend doing the tests anyway, just under a fifth think that asking the doctor to keep the tests to a minimum would suffice. Slightly less than one in eight would recommend changing to another public hospital. These three strategies—doing what the doctor recommends (“loyalty”), changing to another public hospital (“exit”) and asking the doctor to change their behaviour (“voice”) are the three most popular. Another four types of strategies – using connections, going to a private hospital, complaining to the hospital administration and paying bribes—are clearly marginal, since around 90 per cent of respondents would never recommend them.

Analysis of the socio-demographic correlates of the different strategies suggests that the more educated and the higher the income of the respondents, and the more developed the area in which they live, the more proactive they are in dealing with unethical practices.  Privileged groups are also generally more likely to opt for exit strategies. The oldest Chinese are less inclined to use particularistic strategies (bribery, connections, asking for favours), and, except in the case of surgery, less likely to voice their concerns.

It is probably too early to tell what the effects of recent changes to the incentive structures in Chinese hospitals have been. Our survey, conducted more than three years after the start of the latest round of reforms, showed that in the eyes of the public, unethical medical practices are still prevalent. They are part of a culture of health care seeking and medical treatment in which agency risks are shifted onto patients and their families. Most patients see no alternative but to accept these risks, testifying to the existence of a trap of low expectations with respect to medical ethics.  The market does not seem to offer solutions to the problem of unethical practices. The well-to-do are more likely to deal with agency risks pro-actively, including by changing providers, but this still leaves the bulk of the population vulnerable. Empowerment of patients within the public hospital system seems to offer a more promising way forward. It is striking how few respondents believe that complaining to the hospital administration can help them deal with unethical practices. There is a clear need for regulatory institutions which command public confidence. It would be desirable, for example, to establish a system of patients’ ombudsmen, perhaps chosen from amongst local people’s congress delegates, who stand at arms’ length from the medical profession and have real powers to investigate and punish doctors who transgress codes of conduct. Another possibility is to use the internet to develop whistle-blowing platforms and to gather intelligence about ethical violations. Finally, there is a need to educate the public about their rights when seeking medical treatment, both in order to lower unrealistic expectations and to provide guidance on how to seek effective redress.

Dr Neil Munro is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Politics at the University of Glasgow.  A more detailed account of the survey reported in this article will appear as a chapter in Public Health Policy in Asia, ed. Pitman Potter. London: Routledge, forthcoming. Image Credit: CC by · · · — — — · · ·/Flickr

Zhou goes down – but China’s corruption purge is on thin ice

Written by Jackie Sheehan.

The credibility of Xi Jinping’s “tigers and flies” anti-corruption campaign has required the destruction of a bigger player than any previous targets. Zhou Yongkang, who’s now beginning a life sentence for bribery and abuse of power, certainly fits the bill.

Zhou’s life sentence is for bribery, with lesser terms of seven years for abuse of power and four for leaking state secrets. This last charge turned out to be far less serious than previously suspected, as no documents were passed to a foreign power – only to a veteran of China’s 1980s qigong boom, the “Xinjiang sage” Cao Yongzheng.

A mystic who claimed the ability to cure incurable diseases and predict people’s futures, Cao’s real gift turns out to have been using his confidante status with Zhou to obtain large sums of money for his energy company as income from a non-existent investment in a state-owned oilfield in Shaanxi, rather than the ability to tell someone’s past and future from looking at their face.

He was detained in 2014 as part of the long investigation into Zhou’s connections in oil and mining, having reportedly failed to evade the authorities by fleeing to Taiwan. (Insert your own “he didn’t see that coming” joke here.)

Zhou presided over a “stability maintenance” apparatus with a larger annual budget than China’s military which devoted considerable resources to the suppression of Falun Gong, detaining and torturing tens of thousands of qigong practitioners to force them to renounce their belief in people such as Cao. That said, raging hypocrisy is not in itself a criminal offence.


For five years, Zhou was a member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, one of the nine men who ran China. Even though he’d left office by the time he came under investigation, bringing down someone of his rank and connections is impressive, as a glance at Caixin magazine’s mapping of his web of interests shows.

Given Zhou entered the courtroom in terrible shape, thin and haggard with hair turned completely white, it’s only natural we should wonder how voluntary his guilty plea really was. But his case will inevitably have involved a process of negotiation. Unlike his protégé, Politburo member and leadership contender Bo Xilai, Zhou played his part obediently in court.

The only public statement he got to make was a brief and shakily delivered one acknowledging his guilt. Accepting that no doubt helped him escape a death sentence, even a suspended one.

There were plenty of inflammatory earlier statements that may have been calculated to pressure him into this. The People’s Daily’s labelled Zhou a traitor, the Supreme People’s Court claimed that he and Bo Xilai had formed an illegitimate faction within the party, and there was a loudly trumpeted investigation into rumours that he was implicated in his first wife’s death.

On the other hand, the uneven tone of official comments on Zhou’s wrongdoing may just reflect a genuine struggle to decide how harshly to condemn him.

Threading the needle

It’s doubtful that Xi will take down anyone else of Zhou’s status, although he will need to find some way to push the three-year-old campaign forward. Popular though the anti-corruption drive is with many ordinary citizens, it has met significant resistance among officials at all levels.

The risk of jeopardising the party’s other goals by prioritising corruption is not to be taken lightly. Unfilled government posts are a significant problem in the provinces hardest hit to date, not only in Zhou’s bailiwicks of Sichuan and Shaanxi but also in Guangdong.

When the CCP’s foot soldiers feel unfairly treated by those higher up – and accusing officials of corruption in a system where they cannot stay clean and do their jobs is arguably unfair – they have ways of making their displeasure known, including the simple but effective refusal to take the decisions which keep the business of government running.

This is the big dilemma Xi faces. Official corruption is certainly a huge threat to CCP rule, but if he cracks down on it too hard, his officials will start to worry that any one of them could be arbitrarily hung out to dry for something they can hardly avoid doing – and that will greatly undermine their loyalty.

He will be well aware of the risks of this all getting out of hand. When Mao set his sights on two out of six serving politburo members in 1966, he had to start something close to a civil war to get the job done – and even then, one of his victims, Deng Xiaoping, survived to succeed him as China’s paramount leader.

Xi has also used his power to block the development of any of the institutions proven to help a society resist and expose corruption: a free press, a vibrant civil society, an independent judiciary. And even if he decided to unleash them tomorrow, they would dismantle his regime as surely as doing nothing about corruption eventually will.

But if Xi can find an answer to endemic corruption under existing conditions in the seven years he has left to rule, then he really will stand out from his predecessors as a different type of leader.The Conversation

Jackie Sheehan is Professor, School of Asian Studies at University College, Cork. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image Credit: CC by thierry ehrmann/flickr.

Anti-Corruption: Can shock therapy sustain party’s leadership?

Written by Zhuang Chen.

Chinese leaders at various junctures have advocated fighting against corruption; mainly with feeble results. A cynical common view is that anti-corruption campaigns are nothing more than “loud thunder with small raindrops”. However, it seems that Xi Jinping has made anti-corruption a key plank of his presidency, thus elevating it to new heights. In the two years since Xi came to power, more than 50 ministerial level officials have been investigated on corruption charges. In the first half of last year, over 84,000 low ranking officials were “disciplined” within the party. The arrest and corruption charges against China’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang have a “shock and awe” effect – so claimed a Chinese newspaper — and “proves the party is capable of self-purification”.

The campaign does not stop at China’s borders. By launching a second round of the “Fox Hunt” campaign earlier this year, the party stepped up its efforts to bring back suspected economic-crime fugitives. In April, China issued a want list of its top 100 officials and others who are believed to have fled abroad. A deeper look at the most-wanted list reveals there are no high-ranking officials, prompting some to doubt the seriousness of the campaign. Indeed, many on the list are minnows compared to the big fish, Zhou Yongkang. Yet, by pursuing these low ranking officials hard it may send a message to millions of their peers. The Chinese saying “kill the chicken to scare the monkey” might be the thinking behind the list.

Shock as it is, any therapy comes with side effects. One very low ranking official from Chengdu told me the other day that morale among the party’s rank and file has touched rock-bottom. With perks slashed and scrutiny enhanced, many civil servants are under huge pressure. “We don’t want to take the initiative to do things, fearing it might go wrong and then catch someone’s attention,” she says. The once coveted promotion turns into a dilemma for many grass root officials as well, she adds. “Many of us don’t want to be promoted because you are to be examined in great detail.”

Indeed, officials are barred from promotion if their family members have migrated abroad. The so called “naked officials” with spouses or children abroad are under the microscope following cases of swollen bank accounts through graft and bribes. In Shanghai, China’s financial centre, the authorities took one step further in May by barring spouses and children of top officials from entering private businesses in Shanghai. Although the new rules apply only in Shanghai at the moment, but it is likely to spread to other cities as officials try to be seen at the vanguard of an ever more intensified anti-corruption campaign.

When President Xi came to power, he pointed out that fighting corruption was a matter of life-or-death for the Party and the nation. He cites Singapore’s corruption free image with strong government control over society. But just as China cannot copy the Singapore model to drive its economic reform and opening up, nor can the country follow Singapore’s suit in fighting corruption. Simply put, China is too large and too complex.

For years, the slogan for China has been “building socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Whatever the meaning is, China’s anti-graft crackdown may also need to bear the logo of “Chinese characteristics”. Analysts have questioned how far the party can go in stamping out corruption, given that checks on power remain patchy. A recent report in Hong Kong media is revealing. Quoting China’s top graft buster, Wang Qishan, the report says, “There is huge pressure for the long term ruling party to supervise and purify itself.”

The dilemma for Mr Wang is, whilst he admits “it’s difficult for a doctor to operate on himself”, he also realises the idea of judicial independence is off limits. Indeed, Xi has reinforced the ideology that law enforcement must be under the party’s leadership. It seems the only option left with is for the party to act like a doctor to operate on himself, hoping to reduce chances of falling ill in the first place. No wonder Xi re-emphasizes the courage to “rid out bones of poison” and “make sure government officials dare not, cannot and do not want to be corrupt.”

Whether the party can achieve its goal is unknown. No matter what, the road is bound to be long and bumpy. Authorities in Shanghai might well enact strict rules banning relatives of top officials entering private businesses; they may still find the leeway to move around businesses to other cities. Slashing perks for civil servants might well reduce temptation to be corrupt; it also dents their motivation to perform. 

In the party’s tumultuous history, China has undergone a string of campaigns, many with force and power. Some analysts view Xi Jinping as the strongest leader since Deng Xiaoping, pushing through tough policies in a decisive manner. Wary of the short lived campaigns in the party’s history, Xi reiterates his anti-graft drive won’t be like “a gust of wind”. The question is constant yet precarious wind could be just as unhelpful. The earnest test has just started.

Zhuang Chen is the Digital Editor, BBC East Asia Hub. Image Credit: CC by Remko Tanis 

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