China's campaign against corruption in high places probably has reached its peak and will continue with less intensity, having achieved only limited goals, according to diplomats here.
The diplomats say the campaign probably has deterred some officials who might be tempted to enrich themselves and preempted critics of senior leader Deng Xiaoping's economic changes from using the corruption issue to try to put the brakes on those changes.
Some diplomats say there also appeared to be an attempt to target several sons and daughters of conservative opponents of the economic changes but that this attempt failed, apparently because many sons and daughters of the Deng allies were not above reproach.
"Too many people have kids who have problems," said one diplomat, who said sons and daughters of high-ranking officials inevitably benefit from favoritism.
"Nepotism is part of the system here," the diplomat said. "It has been for 2,000 years. And there's no way you can do away with it."
When the six-month-old campaign was first launched at a conference of 8,000 leading government, party and military cadres in early January, top Communist Party officials promised to go after offenders in high places.
To put it in the words of ordinary Chinese, the aim was "to stop swatting at flies and go after the tigers."
But the results, so far, have been meager.
In the most recently disclosed case in the campaign, the New China News Agency reported Tuesday that Chen Yanchang, former president of a county agricultural bank in southwestern China, had received a suspended death sentence for economic crimes, including the embezzlement of 1.2 million yuan (about $375,000). The death sentence would be reviewed in two years and carried out or commuted depending upon Chen's behavior, the news agency said.
Chen's accomplices received sentences of 10 and 12 years in prison.
The news agency said that Chen had installed his son as head of a marketing department he had created under the bank's supervision.
In the most highly publicized anti-corruption case of the campaign, an employe of a state-owned company was executed in mid-April for selling to foreign and Hong Kong businessmen "state secrets" concerning automobile imports.
Ye Zhifeng, a government official working with the man who was executed, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. She is the daughter of Ye Fei, a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee and former commander of the Chinese Navy. There is no indication that Ye Fei was involved in his daughter's alleged wrongdoings.
Signs of a slowdown in the campaign are evident in reports that some officials suspected of wrongdoing or their relatives have now been cleared. A usually well-informed Chinese source said that in at least two cases, the children of high-ranking officials who had been investigated for alleged corruption were cleared because they supposedly acted out of inexperience.
This source said a daughter of Peng Zhen, chairman of the National People's Congress, had been cleared following an investigation. Peng, a Politburo member, is seen as a reluctant supporter of the economic changes.
According to an unconfirmed report appearing in the Hong Kong magazine Cheng Ming in March, Peng's daughter headed a firm that was able to buy a large amount of coal at less than the official rate. She then made an illegal profit of $300,000 by exporting the coal, the magazine reported.
Another Chinese source in a position to know said Hu Shiying, the son of Hu Qiaomu, a Communist Party Politburo member and the party's leading ideologue, was also cleared several weeks ago of corruption charges.
Hu Qiaomu, like Peng Zhen, is considered to have doubts about the economic changes.
The independent Hong Kong magazine Pai Hsing in March identified Hu's son as a journalist who had organized a fraudulent correspondence course in law that never provided lessons to the students who enrolled. Pai Hsing alleged that the younger Hu pocketed thousands of dollars as a result of the swindle.
Justice Ministry officials in Peking have declined to comment on the two cases.
The official party line on the anticorruption campaign, spelled out in a People's Daily commentary April 22, is that the drive "to rectify the party's work style" would continue for two more years.
To stop the campaign altogether, diplomats say, would add to the doubts that a considerable number of Chinese seem to have over the ability of the Communist Party to reform itself. A complete halt also would take the pressure off high-level officials who might be tempted to use their positions to seek illicit gains or misuse public funds.