Monday, 15 January 2018

In Nanjing, Will The Usual Strategy To Fight Corruption Be Sufficient?

Four officials in Nanjing were arrested here this past weekend on corruption charges, specifically suspicion of bribery [犯有受贿罪] and “committing crimes while on duty” [职务犯罪].[1]

While it’s an interesting group of suspects, the news also points to the differences between how Beijing is tackling corruption and what Nanjing is doing about graft.

But first, here’s the lineup of the accused.

There’s Jiang Genlin [蒋根林], the former director of the Trade Union Management Committee in Nanjing’s Jiangning Economic and Technological Development Zone [江宁经济技术开发区].

The former deputy curator of the Nanjing Museum, Hua Guorong [华国荣] is also in custody for abusing authority [滥用职权罪]. He had been a high-profile administrator in the museum’s recent expansion but his impressive resume has suddenly gone missing from their website.

Also detained is Gao Changfu [高长福] suspected of corruption and bribery while working as Party Secretary in charge of Nanjing Biomedical Valley Development Park [南京生物医药谷]. At least one can still find his political climb online and a news item from 2016. But he’s likely not to be so available to the local media, at least for a while.

The final member of this local Gang of Four is Tong Jun [童俊], the former chief of the Finance Department of the Jiangning branch of Nanjing’s Bureau of Land and Resources Bureau. Tong isn’t the first person connected with property allocation decisions here to be pulled in for clever questioning about how certain developers received rights to land that was supposed to be publicly auctioned. It’s unlikely he’ll be the last.

A former trade union director, a museum administrator, a local party secretary, and a finance department chief--that’s a diverse collection of the purportedly corrupt. Were they all linked in some scheme? Or are each the masterminds behind separate efforts to defraud?

And if they’re guilty as charged, how could they not know that they’d get caught?

Because it wasn’t as if they weren’t warned: They were.

In fact, while Nanjing party media have been reluctant to rebroadcast at high-volume everything that the 19th Party Congress decreed, officials here know that they have a corruption problem and Nanjing authorities have recently warned cadres and bureaucrats of even greater supervision in 2018.

But, depending on whether one is speaking of Beijing or Nanjing, there are different strategies in place to fight corruption.

In Beijing, President Xi Jinping has, to quote central party organs, “come out swinging again” [再出重拳] against graft. There’s a renewed focus on the use of public funds for personal consumption, and in recent months, that’s “snuck into the underground and tried to assume invisible forms” [潜入地下的隐形变异] . Because officials are getting better at hiding corruption, an even more ruthless campaign must commence—at least according to Xi and his comardes in Beijing.

But Nanjing is seeking to wage its war differently.

Typical cases of corruption in Nanjing have in the past year mostly involved food safety, remuneration for migrant workers, environmental pollution, and illegal mining—not the large-scale, high-profile problems with “tigers” that plague China’s upper echelons. Officials tend not to take bribes to get rich; they get paid to look the other way when local laws and regulations are being violated. Corruption here tends to be limited in scale, contained and somewhat constrained.

That’s because, at least according to authorities, Nanjing has local advantages. As one account put it, “Nanjing’s red and traditional culture, as well as its humanities and historical resources, tell a story of honesty and goodness, and provide the foundation for party members to remain true to the government.” These psychological obstacles provide limits to large-scale corruption, they claim. There’s greed, but it doesn’t get out of hand.[2]

Plus, officials here claim, there’s a strong system of petitions and letters of complaint that encourage residents to report official malfeasance. Despite Nanjing's size (8 million or so citizens), everyone seems to know someone in the government and that means nothing stays very quiet very long.

And yet there’s still graft in Nanjing—bribes being taken and some people using official positions to solicit them. The Party apparatus admits that, and these stories wouldn't be coming out if everyone was clean.

Something clearly went wrong, though what Comrades Jiang, Gao, Hua and Tong were precisely up to hasn’t been made clear. According to news reports of their arrests, “the cases are in the process of further investigation [上述案件正在进一步侦查中].”

Like a number of matters.

Maybe Nanjing is right to aim at containing corruption, instead of aspiring to kill it off and claim a victory that would be fleeting at best. But look for Beijing to wonder whether that strategy is something worth investigating.

[1] The latter is an increasingly common indictment when highly-placed persons have used their position to indulge in graft of some sort, the parameters of which are still being sorted out.

[2] Some developers and officials insist privately that bribery is just the added cost of doing business in Nanjing. Others insist that was before Xi; that it's a different environment here these days. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

She's Got A Ticket To Ride. Not Really.

In China, having a rail ticket doesn’t guarantee you’ll get to where you need to go.

That was the case in Anhui province last week, when a Hefei primary school teacher stopped a high-speed train from departing the station on-time, by preventing the train door from closing to allow her tardy husband to get on board to join she and their daughter on a trip to Guangzhou. Train personnel tried to get the woman, Luo Haili [罗海丽], to either board the train with her daughter or remain on the platform so the train could depart, but she resisted. Her husband finally joined her and the family boarded, with the train leaving behind schedule, infuriating passengers and, according to various reports in Chinese media, causing delays on the crucial rail line between Hefei and Guangzhou.

After being excoriated on social media, Luo was eventually identified by a video taken by one of the angry passengers. She was fined 2,000 RMB for interfering with train operations and, despite an apology the next day, suspended from her job pending an investigation by the local education bureau.

But according to one commentator here in Nanjing, Luo isn’t the only one at fault.

In an essay titled, “Don’t Punish One Person” [不该只罚一人], Song Guangyu [宋广玉] argued that others also bore responsibility for the incident.

First, according to Song, there are the police officers on the train who didn’t force Luo to board or disembark.

“In reality, it is not rare that law enforcement by the relevant departments is not strict and the violators do not have to pay the price,” he noted. “If rules always leave windows and room [to transgress], that triggers the "broken window effect" [破窗效应] in society that [undercuts] those residents who want rules followed. “The lack of enforcement,” Song insisted, “encourages those who violate rules and pursue selfish interests.”

Moreover, Song argued, those who used the video to identify Luo and then posted her personal information on the Internet—so-called “human flesh search engines” [人肉罗]—“should not get off scot-free [不该逍遥法外].” They also should be subject to sanction of some sort.

Song concluded that, since “everyone is equal before the law and rules must be equal, so must the responsibility for this incident not only stop with Luo.” Society itself isn’t responsible so much as those who are supposed to serve society, as well as those who think it’s their right to step in and do that themselves. They too must be held accountable.

Meanwhile earlier this week, also in Anhui, Nanjing railway police investigators arrested a man manufacturing and selling counterfeit train tickets.

Arresting the perpetrator after an extensive investigation, police seized over 2,200 tickets, with a value of nearly 100 thousand RMB. The suspect, a Mr. Chen [] told officers that he published information about the train tickets through QQ and WeChat social media, and sold more than 1000 fake tickets to customers who placed orders. He says must have known the tickets were counterfeit because of their low price (between 20 to 50 RMB, plus express delivery charges).*

Whether the buyers themselves will also be held responsible remains unclear.

These sorts of efforts to subvert the system—the daily victories of greed over goodness, of personal gain at the expense of others—come in many forms here in China. Responsibility to one’s self only (and sometimes, one’s family) is the overriding ethos in China, and has been for ages. For every attempt by residents to be honest, polite, and generous, there are hundreds and often thousands of efforts in the other direction every day. Like Luo and Chen, offenders want to explain that what they’re doing is reasonable because they think can get away with it. Far too many do.

But Luo didn’t: in the end, she got caught. Luo made her train, but she lost face--and probably her job too. Chen is likely to lose his freedom for a while, and perhaps his customers will get fined. Maybe that’s accountability, or perhaps it’s just another day in Anhui. With events such as these, it’s not clear whether China is speeding ahead or still stuck at the station.

*Earlier this week, at least one train on the main Beijing-Shanghai rail route had audio announcements warning passengers not to purchase counterfeit rail tickets lest their social credit rating be affected.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

In Nanjing, Perhaps Not Everyone Is In The Same Lane

President Xi Jinping’s proclamations are rightly receiving “thunderous applause” [雷鸣般的掌声] from some quarters in recent days. As ever, he and his words are worth appreciating. 

Some of the Nanjing media, on the other hand, has been less than effusive in the wake of Xi’s drive-by here last month.

For example, while Party publications at the central level have been lavish in their praise of Xi and link the results of the 19th Party Congress to his vision of China, local coverage of a conference recently held in Nanjing on the city’s economic and social development barely mentioned Xi and his programs. And at the same time that Beijing has been emphasizing the importance of putting Xi’s principles into practice, Nanjing’s notions of implementation focus on seeing the city’s specific plans for the New Year succeed. 

Even when there have been the expected paeans here to the 19th Party Congress and Xi’s piloting of the Communist Party, there’s reason to wonder how genuine some of that sentiment really is.

The full page in Nanjing Ribao that extolled the second volume of Xi’s speeches on governance[1], appeared on the eve of Xi’s visit to Nanjing in what could well been an attempt to curry favor. Parts of that edition read as if the Nanjing leadership was defending its efforts to play up the 19th Party Congress-- conceivably because Beijing believed that officials here hadn’t been doing that before.

Of course, local Party officials have done some rebroadcasting of the results of the 19th Party Congress, and they've issued praise for Xi personally. The prevailing Party line about China entering a new era [新的代] gets echoed locally at least in some parts of the city and its environs. Slogans and other signage are in the streets and avenues here, as elsewhere, exalting the Party Congress. One particularly prominent posting appeared at the Nanjing South Railway Station in mid-December.

Still, there’s at least a reticence, a hesitancy here among some regarding just what the course set by the 19th Party Congress means for Nanjing. Even Nanjing Party leader Zhang Jinghua [张敬华] seemed to acknowledge as much when he said earlier this week that, “at present [当前], Nanjing is in the process of carrying out [正在贯彻] Xi Jinping's new socialist thought with Chinese characteristics and in the spirit of the 19th Party Congress.”

Those are rather cautious words, carefully chosen. 

What to make of all this?

First, what it’s not.

There’s no clear indication that there’s sudden and angry opposition to Xi or any of the policies announced at the 19th Party Congress. Social discontent, unrest in the streets of Nanjing or its suburbs—these too are absent, as they have been for a very long time here. Those analysts who continue to look for political upheaval in China will do so in vain. Problems with bike-sharing, the housing market, property management firms, and the like do not a revolution make[2]--local or otherwise. There are a lot of bright people composing smart solutions, locally and elsewhere in China.

Still, there’s something amiss here, at the policymaking level—which is where pretty much everything connected with power matters anyway. Nanjing media is focused inward, not upward. Local Party outlets that would normally reiterate the central line are only doing that intermittently. Call it local reluctance, the possibility of overreach by Beijing, or that the political system here doesn’t function that well with too much power at the top the way it did under The Great Helmsman—the reasons are currently unclear. Central-level officials might think that they dictate policies and political doctrine that fits every situation. But that doesn’t mean that everybody is buying in just yet.

And that large, almost lavish sign at Nanjing’s efficient and quite modern South Station? It’s gone, replaced by a car advertisement. 

Outside China's beltway, some apparently prefer to travel in their own lane. 

[1] Amazon China sent special texts to previous customers based in Nanjing highlighting the availability of Xi’s book during this time as well. Maybe that's yet another demonstration of power, but it's more likely another effort by Xi's allies to secure political ground. 

[2] Artists announcing their opposition from far away are irrelevant; it’s the ones who’ve remained and practice their craft who are better harbingers of where China is moving.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Xi Sends A Message--And So Do Others

In the period following the 19th Party Congress in October, President Xi Jinping’s aim for the nation has been clearly communicated: Only the Chinese Communist Party can save socialism[1]---that is, the socialist path as contained in the new doctrine of Xi Jinping Thought.

A major challenge for local officials is interpreting just what Xi’s goal means for them in their daily work.

Nanjing’s government got a sense of the uncertainty of its role when Xi visited Jiangsu last week, ostensibly to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the massacre here. The trip seemed to be about that particular event.

But instead of going directly to Nanjing, Xi stopped in the northern Jiangsu city of Xuzhou—on the way in and, surprisingly, returned there on his way back to Beijing, spending little time in Jiangsu’s capitol and emphasizing themes that might have seemed, to at least some Nanjing officials, to be more about the past than the present.

In Xuzhou on the 12th, Xi called on a major manufacturing facility and said that China’s state-owned enterprises are “an important material and political foundation for socialism with Chinese characteristics and a pillar [顶梁柱] of the socialist economy with Chinese characteristics …[critical] for our party in governing and rejuvenating the country.” Xi also visited an environmental reclamation project and rural party organizations in the area, praising the latter’s role as “a strong fortress to promote reform and development” [推动改革发展的坚强战斗堡垒]. The implementation of his strategy of revitalizing China, Xi said, needs to combine “material progress and spiritual civilization…[with] particular attention paid to improving the spirit of peasants.”

After attending the gathering at the Nanjing Massacre Museum the next morning, Xi then returned to Xuzhou that afternoon.

In Xuzhou, he paid respects to fallen soldiers at the Huaihai [淮海] Military Memorial, commemorating a major battle that saw CCP forces launch the offensive that ultimately ended in the seizure of Nanjing from the Nationalist government. At the Xuzhou memorial, Xi asserted that “it is not always the weapons and forces that determine the outcome of a war. The military's strategy and tactics, the confidence and courage of the soldiers, the support and assistance of the people are often the more important factors.”

That was Xi again stressing the spiritual component of his political strategy to rejuvenate China, and how revisiting the revolutionary past should shape the bedrock of reform.

There’s no doubt that Xi’s devotion is deeply genuine. And his very presence at these places is in stark contrast to the previous practices of some leaders and local officials. There is much to admire and praise here.

At the same time, SOEs, the peasantry, “people’s war”, those are admonitions---authentic and inspirational to many, but they could be seen by some cadres as throwbacks, unconnected to such matters as urban management and assisting entrepreneurs. 

For Xi, the trip to Jiangsu was a commemoration more than  an inspection[2]---a reminder to local Party officials of their political mission [政治任务][3] and of his expectation of more progress in the provinces in the wake of the 19th Party Congress. 

But for officials in Nanjing, trying to put Xi’s strategy into practice may prove to be tricky. Just the day before Xi swung through Nanjing, Nanjing Ribao [南京日报] listed three tasks for the coming year--preventing major risks in the city's financial sector; enhancing pollution control; and poverty alleviation. 

So at least some cadres here seem to be signalling that the challenges they face are very much of this moment, and not a previous one.

More on the latter aspect in the next posting.

[1] An objective that’s rather different from what Mao Zedong was urging (“only socialism can save China” [只有社会主义才能救中国] or “only the Communist Party can save China” [只有中国共产党才能救中国])--and what Chinese intellectual Qin Hui has sort to subvert through some of his commentary.

[2] Central new agencies in their coverage indicated it was both.

[3] 政治任务 in Party discourse means more than just going through the motions; it’s about understanding policies agreed on at the central level and putting them into practice locally. To refer to the current efforts as Xi expressed them as政治任务 is part of efforts by the Party media to get cadres and citizens to take the conclusions reached at the 19th Party Congress seriously, and that mirrors the intensive effort at the grassroots to spread Xi Thought to the masses