By Fareed Zakaria
There was a blockbuster article in the New York Times recently that details the extent of the private wealth amassed by the family of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The story is already creating huge waves in China, and although Chinese authorities have reportedly blocked the paper’s site, the story is still being discussed in a million different, quiet ways.
“A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relative – some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making – have controlled assets worth $2.7 billion,” The New York Times reported. “In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners.”
What this highlights for me is not that China is especially corrupt, although corruption there is (as elsewhere) a genuine problem. Instead, this report underscores the answer to a question many of us have been wondering over the years: is China somehow largely immune to the kind of corruption that afflicts developing countries?
Certainly, China has often seemed smoothly technocratic compared with the messy, chaotic, highly corrupt reality of India. And there’s still some truth to this observation. Bureaucratic institutions do function better in China, and from what I can tell there is less corruption there than in India in the routine provision of things like licenses and permits.
However, this article underscores that there is extensive corruption in China of a different kind. People that are well-connected – especially the so-called princelings – get favorable treatment in terms of government loans, investment and licenses. And, because of China’s breathtaking growth, such assistance can add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, meaning that the sums involved are more much more massive than the cash in a brown paper bag that would be handed out for a permit elsewhere.
The issue for China is not whether it has a corruption problem – as I have suggested, I would argue that on a day-to-day basis it has less of a problem than nations such as India and Indonesia. Instead, Beijing’s problem is that its closed political system does not have the legitimacy of elections. This could hit the Communist Party hard as it undermines the image the country has of itself as managed by an elite that governs for the greater good, in a highly meritocratic system.
Now, with the revelations about Wen’s family and the case of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, it will be interesting to see how the Chinese handle these disruptions to the narrative moving forward. Given that its leadership does not appear to intend to hold elections, what processes will the Communist Party implement for handling corruption and leadership selection to maintain any semblance of legitimacy?
It will be fascinating to see how the country grapples with this question.
I'm from hong kong, those chinese from mainland are so pathatic, their comments simply endorse the crooked regime. I also want to say all guys here are wrong. Wen has very limited power. This was all but framed by Bo xi-lao's gang.
I suspect the level of corruption in Red China is on a par with the levels of corruption in pretty-much every totalitarian state throughout history: VERY.
Gee, how many of these comments are being generated by the Chinese Government? Now thats real corruption!
"what processes will the Communist Party implement for handling corruption and leadership selection to maintain any semblance of legitimacy?"
Come on Fareed! What "processes"?? Those in the CCP most in danger of being exposed will begin eliminating those
who threaten them. And those least able to hide their corruption will begin allying themselves with those most capable
of eliminating "threats" and protecting "friends". The "process" is simply Darwinian survival of the fittest.
It's too bad that the "process" won't eliminate the CCP or the newly wealthy "business geniuses" whose sole operating
principle is "greed is GOOD!"
China is heading for a catastrophe of its own making.
It's a very good article.However,there are some points I can't agree with.So far as I konw,what's magazines said about Wen's family haven't involed any direct evidence.Maybe some magazine will be sued for defamation of Wen's character. The media should adhere to be objective,that's to say,medias should be responsible.
The author is wrong about the Bible being easier on the killing of an unborn baby. It is treated the same as a life outside the womb throughout the Bible. The author of this article has a habit of trying to defend his liberal agenda by using argumnets made by different Christians. At any point in time you can find many perspectives from man but the Bible is very clear about the killing of unborn babies ( not fetuses ) and other culturaly sensative issues the writer loves to twist. If you muddy the water it allows you to avoid the truth – but the Bibles position is clear to anyone who reads the Bible without an agenda.
Who cares about China, or any other countries? They can corrupt anyway they want. Someone please care a little bit for USA! Fareed Zakaria must be paid by China.
Mankind is corrupt and not worthy of inheriting the Earth. Evolution has a long way to go with this species.
no different than it has always been....and will always be...until there is no more china.
Wow, this is a seriously poorly written article...reads more like the work of an undergrad student than a seasoned reporter..
Chi-coms? They are inherently corrupt...just like the Soviets....
In the history few years, several of the theme at this pandal have been subject matter like women's empowerment and the human rights and duty of citizens. This year's theme of forthrightness has been bring to life by art director Nilesh Choudhary.
WHATEVER SYSTEM, PLEASE TRY TO FOLLOW THOSE LEAST CORRUPT PLACES LIKE SINGAPORE, NORWAY, SWEDEN ETC.!!!
No there's no corruption!:) "The prime minister’s relative – some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making – have controlled assets worth $2.7 billion" Clearly the family has connections good and bad.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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