Xi’s anti-corruption campaign was supposed to make the Party’s Beijing leadership more popular, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. A survey of 83,000 Chinese citizens found that a majority thinks Beijing is at least as corrupt as the provinces and local governments. The FT reports:
Xi Jinping’s high profile anti-corruption campaign has fallen short of its stated goal and appears to be doing more harm than good to the image of China’s Communist party, according to new academic research and an analysis of official statistics.
The Chinese president’s drive against graft, now nearly four years old, is one of the most powerful and far-reaching campaigns in the country since Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. But a new study suggests that it has backfired, with citizens often blaming local graft on the central government rather than on regional authorities, while an FT analysis indicates that the odds of officials being punished for corruption are slim.
The anti-corruption efforts were supposed to help the central authorities in Beijing consolidate power through several mechanisms. First, they gave Party officials an excuse to go after political enemies. Second, they were a winning issue in a country which has long struggled to rid itself of graft and distrust. The way this was supposed to work, the Party would prove it had the interests of the people at heart by taking down local corrupt businessmen and bureaucrats. Things aren’t working out that way.
Even if they had proven popular, the purges were a high-risk proposition from the start. By pitting official against official and by uprooting so many powerful individuals, Xi has caused immense unrest and uncertainty. Moreover, he has done so at a time when China doesn’t exactly need more cause for trauma. To be sure, the anti-corruption campaign still has the potential to make it easier for Xi to push through reforms because he will have a better grip on power. But it’s not clear that those reforms are coming soon anyway.
It’s always dangerous to call a policy a failure before it has played itself out. But it seems clear that the anti-corruption campaign is having some problematic side effects, and that it’s making an already-unstable situation even more so.