China Cracks Down on Corruption

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

BEIJING, Feb. 14 -- The Chinese Communist Party disciplined more than 115,000 members for corruption and related violations last year and turned more than 15,000 of them over to the courts for prosecution, the government reported Tuesday.

The figures, compiled by the party's Central Discipline Inspection Commission and published in the official press, provided a high-level hint at the breadth and depth of the corruption that has arisen in China during a quarter-century of economic liberalization. The issue has become a serious liability for the government of President Hu Jintao.

The commission, which also said it had expelled 24,000 of the party's 68 million members, did not estimate what percentage of the total number of corrupt officials its investigations had uncovered, or how the 2005 figures compared with data from past years. But the number of corrupt officials in villages, towns and counties has grown so large that many Chinese assume that bribes play a role in almost all decisions by local officials, particularly those regarding land confiscations for development. Their suspicions have been a major factor in peasant unrest sweeping the Chinese countryside in the past two years.

The commission took particular note of its campaign to force local officials to relinquish their shares in private coal mines, which have suffered a relentless series of accidents that killed almost 6,000 workers in 2005. In many cases, investigators found, miners were operating in unsafe conditions because local officials assigned to enforce regulations were paid to look the other way, or were themselves part-owners of the dangerous mines.

The report said more than 4,800 officials acknowledged that they owned shares in coal mines -- despite party rules prohibiting them from doing so -- with a total value of $91 million. By the end of 2005, the report added, $69.4 million worth of shares had been sold off at the urging of party inspectors.

"A campaign to make government officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises give up their shares in coal mines has achieved initial success," the commission said.

The report included a promise to further strengthen enforcement of party anti-corruption rules this year by "improving the current system to stem corruption at its sources" and "publicizing good examples and bad examples," according to the official New China News Agency.

The document was signed by the commission secretary, Wu Guanzhen, a member of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee and thus one of the dozen most powerful figures in China. His focus on punishing corruption fit into a larger pattern of regular denunciations that have been made by senior Communist Party leaders. So far, however, they have concentrated on top-down improvements in discipline and morale within the party, without allowing the judicial system to exercise autonomous authority or the press to report on corruption matters without being censored.

"China's Communist Party can solve its own corruption problems with determination, capability and effectiveness," Wu's deputy, He Yong, said in an interview in December with the Study Times newspaper, published by the Communist Party's Central Party School.

Wu's year-end report was presented at a meeting Jan. 8 but was made public only Tuesday. Most Beijing newspapers reported it on the front page. The party's official organ, People's Daily, printed the text, while China Daily, the government's English-language newspaper aimed at foreigners, did not mention it.

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