A retired professor at the prestigious Peking University recently suggested that the Chinese authorities require officials to disclose their financial assets, starting with the seven members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Politburo Standing Committee.
Zheng Yefu, who specializes in sociology, expressed his views in a Dec. 22 commentary published on the website “China in Perspective.” In the article, Zheng argued that Chinese officials coming clean about their wealth was the best way to protect judicial independence and ensure the success of anti-corruption efforts.
The Politburo Standing Committee, headed by Chinese leader and CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, is the country’s highest decision-making body.
Zheng had caused a stir in December 2018, when he published an in-depth opinion piece that criticized the CCP’s authoritarian system as having caused a dangerous build-up of serious social crises, and exhorted its leaders to “honorably and with dignity lead the Party off the historical stage.”
Since 2013, Xi Jinping has pursued a large-scale anti-corruption campaign, disciplining millions of officials in the CCP and Chinese state. However, many observers note that the campaign has mainly targeted the political influence of Party factions opposed to Xi, rather than resolving the structural causes of corruption within the CCP.
Officials charged with graft are typically put on trial only after being dealt with by personnel from the CCP’s disciplinary inspection agency via an opaque extralegal process called shuanggui.
However, “no matter how many corrupt officials you arrest, you can’t be sure that the ones who aren’t yet implicated are innocent,” Zheng said.
Passing asset disclosure laws would compel Chinese officials to clean up their act, as they would be subject to monitoring by the judiciary, as well as the Chinese public, Zheng said.
Zheng cited the World Bank as saying that by 2016, 153 countries had adopted systems of financial disclosure, up from 137 in 2013. In the United States, the 1989 Ethics Reform Act added members of Congress, congressional officers and employees, and “specified presidential appointees to the list of Federal personnel required to file financial disclosure reports.”
The Chinese authorities have yet to implement such measures, despite calls by academics like Zheng over the last three decades.
Zheng criticized shuanggui, the system that the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) uses to take down corrupt officials. The two characters in the word, sometimes translated as “double designation,” refer to the accused official being summoned to a certain location at a certain time, where he or she can expect to be detained and interrogated.
Shuanggui, which was introduced in 1994, was in 2018 renamed “detainment,” but it follows essentially the same procedure.
Chinese law requires suspects to be released after 24 hours if no evidence of a crime is found. being an illegal procedure, shuanggui allows CCDI inspectors to bypass this restriction and detain individuals indefinitely. Targets of shuanggui are often held in hotels, offices, and other unofficial locations while inspectors build cases against them.
In March 2018, as part of a broad institutional reform effort, the Xi leadership merged the CCDI with the state procuratorate. “They knew that shuanggui was illegal, so they cooked up this scheme,” Zheng wrote.
Since then, he observed, the judiciary had been completely folded into the Party’s control, and “the checks and balances ceased to exist.”
Xi’s institutional restructuring is part of a shift in authority away from the Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), a Communist Party organization that oversees Chinese courts, the procuratorate, and police forces. It gained prominence under former Party head Jiang Zemin, who stacked the PLAC and other important CCP agencies with his allies.
In 2014, the CCDI placed Zhou Yongkang, then-CCDI head and a close associate of Jiang Zemin, under investigation. He was expelled from the Party and given a death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in June 2015.
With reporting by Leo Timm.