Is Xi serious about cracking down on corruption?
August 8th, 2014
02:50 PM ET

Is Xi serious about cracking down on corruption?

By Jamie Metzl, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jamie Metzl is a Senior Fellow at the Asia Society. He served in the National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton administration. You can follow him @jamiemetzl or visit his website. The views expressed are his own.

There are many signs that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented anti-corruption drive is serious. In recent weeks, an investigation was launched into former security chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, while former top General Xu Caihou was expelled from the Communist Party. Nearly 200,000 party members of all levels have reportedly been disciplined for corruption over the last two years. But if this top down approach is not matched by a bottom-up empowerment of the people being most harmed by China’s corruption pandemic it will have little chance of success.

China’s leadership faces a crisis of confidence among the Chinese people. Endemic corruption has become the rule rather than the exception, highlighted in the social media the government is straining to contain. Downstream effects of corruption – environmental degradation, food and consumer safety lapses, massive inequality, and thwarted innovation to name a few – are suppressing the natural talents of the Chinese people and causing many of China's most capable to emigrate.

Xi has promised that the anti-corruption campaign will snare “tigers” as well as “flies,” senior leaders as well as smaller fry, and he has been true to his word. Those charged include officials from all levels and associated with virtually all major factions.

But because corruption is so pervasive, it’s difficult not to see political and public relations motives. When Chinese media reports critically on the vast wealth accrued by the families of former Chongqing leader Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, and others, it’s easy to remember the Bloomberg and New York Times reports on the millions of dollars held by Xi’s and former Premier Wen Jiabao’s families. And no one believes that China’s government leaders, among the wealthiest in the world, are getting rich from their salaries alone.

This corruption passes from the top down. Officials in senior positions receive bribes from businessmen they then use to secure their own promotions and strengthen their essential patronage networks according to qian gui ze, the “hidden rules” of the road. It doesn’t end there. Parents in schools across China are expected pay teachers to ensure fair treatment for their children, journalists require envelopes of cash for attending press conferences, doctors in public hospitals demand payment for providing care. Nearly everyone with something to offer can expect additional payments under the table.

For Xi, cracking down on the likes of Zhou in the name of anti-corruption removes his most powerful rivals, demonstrates power consolidation, and is good public relations. But ultimately, corruption in China is not a cancer on the system, it is the essence of it.

Xi and his team are no doubt betting that a top down approach can clean up the system enough, or at least make it look like they doing enough, to prevent the party and government from being delegitimized, while at the same time maintaining the party’s dominant role. But while it might be conceptually possible for China to address its corruption problem with a Singapore-like good governance approach if its leaders were willing to take vows of chastity and poverty, the far likelier bet is that it can’t because the party itself is the problem. As long as the party remains above the law with zero transparency or public accountability, leaders like Zhou are expelled while others have amassed far greater spoils are exempt, and Chinese citizens are sent to jail for protesting official corruption or advocating that China live up to its own constitution, that problem will remain.

If, on the other hand, Xi is serious about addressing corruption, he will need to push the kinds of political reforms required to facilitate bottom-up pressure for accountability and good governance – rule of law, sunshine and disclosure legislation, a free press, conflict of interest rules, supporting non-governmental watchdog groups, empowering the public, etc.  Ultimately, but not necessarily immediately, the Chinese Communist Party will need a mandate by the people conferred through meaningful elections.

Although the Chinese government has delivered spectacular results in many areas over past decades, China is now at a crossroads where nearly every major problem stems ultimately from the distortions of its political system. For the country to realize its potential, these distortions must be addressed.

Since taking over two years ago, Xi has moved steadily to consolidate power and isolate his rivals. Up to this point, the anti-corruption campaign can only be seen as part of this process. The big question, however, is consolidating power for what? If Xi proves to be moving strategically towards implementing the political reforms China needs to address its corruption and unlock the great potential of its people in a more open, distributed, and creative system, then the anti-corruption drive will have meaning. The announcement that the party plenum scheduled for October will address legal reform issues is a positive potential step in the right direction.

But if Xi does not push for political reforms, the campaign will simply look like a risky political and public relations maneuver to get rid of rivals, an approach that won’t get China out of its morass.

I hope it’s the former, but the jury is still out.

 

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Topics: China
July 7th, 2014
04:51 PM ET

Why the Export-Import Bank matters

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

You know countries don't always play by the rules of international trade, especially countries where the government and large companies are really all part of the same team.

Take, for example, China – the most notorious player who hasn't read the rule sheet. The government of China lavishes subsidies on its companies to make their products more competitive in the global marketplace.

And it's not just subsidies that help Chinese companies. Last year, China's government gave its domestic companies $111 billion in guarantees, loans and insurance to help them sell their various products overseas.

And China is just one example – Japan's companies got $33 billion worth of such treatment, South Korea $24 billion. And by contrast, the U.S. total was just $15 billion. Keep in mind that South Korea's economy is less than 1/10th the size of America's!

FULL POST

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Topics: China • Economy • United States • What in the World?
The big winner from Ukraine crisis? China
June 6th, 2014
04:51 PM ET

The big winner from Ukraine crisis? China

By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University and the author of the recent book Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror After Iraq and Afghanistan. The views expressed are his own.

It’s still not certain how the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is going to be resolved, but there already appears to be one clear winner: China. That, anyway, is the view of several Russian observers I met with last week when I was in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to European talk of reducing natural gas imports from Russia no doubt prompted Putin’s recent trip to Beijing and the signing of a mega-deal under which China has agreed to buy a massive $400 billion of Russian gas over a thirty year period.

But while Putin may believe that Chinese support will help him frustrate what he sees as Western efforts to prevent Russia’s re-emergence as a great power, the view among observers I spoke with wasn’t quite so rosy.

For a start, they interpreted the declaration that what China pays for Russian gas is a “trade secret” as a bad sign for Moscow, suggesting that Putin might have been so desperate for a deal that Beijing was able to get him to accept an extremely low price.

FULL POST

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Topics: China • Russia
June 4th, 2014
09:22 AM ET

Kristof: Pressure for more political participation will grow in China

Fareed Zakaria speaks with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Tiananmen Square, about the significance of the anniversary. Watch the video for the full conversation.

What do you remember best from that time?

I think that the single most powerful memory for me comes because we always heard how democracy is inappropriate for a poor, developing, poorly educated country. And, of course, there’s some truth to that. Democracy doesn’t take deep roots in such a country.

But that night, when the troops were opening fire, the heroes were these rickshaw drivers who would go and collect the bodies of the kids who’d been killed or injured. And they could not have defined democracy, but they were risking their lives for it.

And that has always chastened me about the notion of being kind of too presumptuous about who is, you know, for whom democracy is appropriate. Because when people are really willing to show that kind of courage, then…

But what happened to those people and the students and that generation of kind of middle class aspiration which said “we have a little bit of money now but now we want a greater voice?” FULL POST

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Topics: China • GPS Show
June 4th, 2014
08:51 AM ET

What Tiananmen taught me

By Trini Leung, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Trini Leung is director for East Asia at Amnesty International. The views expressed are the writer's own.

I'll never forget the morning of June 2, 1989. I was living in Hong Kong and, together with a few fellow activists, we decided there was nowhere else to be but Beijing, near Tiananmen Square. It was a decision that changed my life.

We took a flight to Beijing, and within hours found ourselves surrounded by thousands of Chinese men and women, young and old, activists, students and workers – all making history in Tiananmen Square. They were there defying one of the world's most powerful governments, armed with nothing but words, courage and determination to stand by the students who had for weeks been demonstrating for more open and accountable governance.

The atmosphere in the square was electric – unlike anything I had ever experienced – as groups of students, workers and other ordinary citizens engaged in lively debates about corruption, freedom, their rights and the country's leadership.

FULL POST

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Topics: China
What China's latest deals say about its grand strategy
May 29th, 2014
03:58 PM ET

What China's latest deals say about its grand strategy

By Lauren Dickey, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Lauren Dickey is a research associate with the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to China last week was the capstone on weeks of strategic agreements for Beijing. The successes of Putin’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai – most notably a $400 billion gas deal to transport 38 billion cubic meters of gas yearly into China beginning in 2018 – were preceded by equally significant meetings between the Chinese leadership and their counterparts from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. But while these bilateral meetings point to Beijing’s commitment to the development of the Silk Road economic belt, they also speak to something even more important – China’s interest in bolstering regional security.

In the lead up to the Shanghai Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) the first central Asian leader to signal the strategic depth of central Asia’s ties with China was Turkmenistan’s president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. A week before Berdymukhamedov’s mid-May visit to China, China opened a new $600 million processing plant at Bagtyarlyk gas field, the location of a major China-bound pipeline. Turkmenistan’s gas exports to China have increased in recent years, with officials aiming to reach 40 billion cubic meters by 2016 thanks to China’s financial backing of Bagtyarlyk. Upon arriving in China, Berdymukhamedov signed a gamut of deals with Beijing, formalizing Turkmenistan’s ascension as the last central Asian nation to sign onto a “strategic partnership” with Beijing. The two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in areas ranging from natural gas extraction to cross-border infrastructure development and cultural exchanges.

FULL POST

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Topics: Central Asia • China • Russia
May 26th, 2014
03:12 PM ET

China and our new, messy world

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

Last week, we saw a new world of great power intrigue. The U.S. Justice Department filed formal charges against five officials in the Chinese military and detailed the economic espionage that they allegedly have conducted against American companies over the last eight years.

The action is unprecedented, especially since these officials are never going to be arrested – and will probably never leave China. And no one believes it will make any difference because the Chinese officials are unlikely to face any kind of sanction at home. In fact, if anything, they might regard being on this list as a badge of honor…

…Cyber attacks are part of a new, messy, chaotic world, fueled by globalization and the information revolution. In a wired, networked world, it is much harder to shut down this kind of activity. And it certainly will not be possible to do it using traditional mechanisms of national security.

FULL POST

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Topics: China • Fareed's Take
What's behind China's territorial spats?
May 25th, 2014
08:55 PM ET

What's behind China's territorial spats?

CNN’s Beijing bureau chief and correspondent, Jaime A. FlorCruz, responds to readers’ questions about recent tensions in the South China Sea, China’s relations with its neighbors and what may be behind recent disputes.

What is the dispute between China and Vietnam over the Paracel Islands about? Is it just about resource claims?

It is about resources. Much of the disputed area is believed to be potentially rich in oil and other natural resources. But it’s more than just a fight over resources – it’s the latest episode of a long-running saga of conflicting territorial claims of the South China Sea. China this time is acting aggressively to assert its claim to most of the oil-rich sea while its neighbors with conflicting territorial claims are angrily pushing back.

It’s also about China’s perception that Asian claimants like Vietnam are nibbling away at islands that China claims is its “indisputable sovereign territories”, as Chinese officials say. China insists it is simply defending its territory, sovereignty and security. It denies that it will impede freedom of navigation, an overriding concern of the U.S. and other third party stakeholders.

It’s a proxy fight, and extension of U.S.-China rivalry, taking place while the United States “rebalances” its defense and foreign policy toward Asia. China thinks some of these claimants, like Vietnam and the Philippines, are colluding with the United States, and are ganging up against China.

The U.S. and China find themselves on the opposite side of the existing political world order. The United States is the established power, the sole superpower, although its ability to enforce its will has been eroded lately. China on the other hand is a rising power – it’s gaining confidence as its economy and military might grow.

FULL POST

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Topics: Asia • China • Reader Q&A • United States
May 22nd, 2014
11:03 PM ET

China’s cyberespionage presents a 21st-century challenge

By Fareed Zakaria

Some experts believe that the scale of China’s cyberespionage is off the charts. “It is the largest theft in human history,” Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution told me, pointing to one example. The United States will spend around $1 trillion developing the F-35 fighter, which will be its most advanced weapons system. “But we can now see clearly that elements of the F-35 have made their way into a similar Chinese plane. American investments that were meant to give it a 15-year battlefield advantage have been totally undermined,” Singer said. And he points out that China targets everyone from defense contractors down to furniture makers, whose chair designs get stolen and copied within a year.

Cyberattacks are part of a new, messy, chaotic world, fueled by globalization and the information revolution. In a wired, networked world, it is much harder to shut down activity that blurs the lines between governments and private citizens, national and international realms, theft and warfare. And it certainly will not be possible to do so using traditional mechanisms of national security. Notice that Washington is using a legal mechanism (which will be ineffective and largely symbolic) for what is really a national security issue.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: China
May 20th, 2014
11:51 AM ET

Clarke: Probably 40 nations now have drones

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Richard Clarke, former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, about the future of drone use. Watch the video for the full interview.

You talk about the fact that this technology is going to be more widely available, and so we'd better be careful. We’ve heard this for a while. How close are we to China, in significant ways, using drones?

China is using drones today, they're just not killing people with then. They have a drone that looks remarkably like the Predator…There are probably 40 nations now that have drones. Three that I know of have used them in lethal operations.

So these are armed drones now?

Well, so there are three countries that have used armed drones – Russia, the United States and Israel. There are 40 something countries that have drones that could easily put weapons on them. And now there are companies and local governments, and in the United States it has become a real issue, because there are thousands of people who have bought drones and want to use them for real estate purposes and advertising purposes.

And the government rules say you can't fly above 400 feet. And yet they are. And one almost ran into an airline in Florida. So we're going to see drones more and more a part of our everyday life as we go forward.

So we need, clearly, rules about surveillance drones. But at an international level, do you think we could come up with some kind of international treaty that sets out exactly what the rights and responsibilities are? Otherwise, as you point out, we’ve killed 2,500 people in five countries without any kind of Congressional declaration of war, without even the invocation of some kind of presidential war powers. FULL POST

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Topics: China • GPS Show • Military
Why tensions are building in Southeast Asia
May 19th, 2014
02:34 PM ET

Why tensions are building in Southeast Asia

By Lord Michael Williams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Williams is a distinguished visiting fellow at Chatham House and a former senior official in the United Nations. The views expressed are his own.

Five Chinese ships will arrive in Vietnam over the next few days to evacuate thousands of Chinese workers from the country. Hundreds more have fled to Cambodia and many are missing. Another 16 critically injured were evacuated by aircraft. This exodus has followed almost a week of rioting and anti-Chinese demonstrations throughout the country – the most serious such protests in Vietnam for many years, which have also hit Taiwanese as well as mainland companies.

The demonstrations were triggered by an abrupt Chinese move of a giant deep sea oil rig close to the fiercely contested Paracel islands, a move that the United States called “provocative.” For the Vietnamese, the move was a painful reminder of China’s violent seizure of the islands in 1974 in the dying days of the old South Vietnamese government, before the unification of the country. That move, at a time of national weakness, is still remembered forty years on by Vietnamese.

As a result of all this, fears of a clash at sea between Vietnam and China have risen in the increasingly febrile atmosphere evident in the region. Warships from the two countries are reportedly deployed dangerously close to the contested Chinese oil rig. For its part, Vietnam has still not revealed the number of Chinese killed in recent incidents, but it is believed to be as many as twenty.

FULL POST

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Topics: Asia • China
How serious are China's territorial disputes?
May 16th, 2014
06:11 PM ET

How serious are China's territorial disputes?

Reports earlier this week that a Vietnamese patrol vessel had exchanged water cannon fire with Chinese ships was just the latest example of the escalating dispute between China and its neighbors over the South China Sea.

The incident followed Beijing’s decision to start drilling near the Paracel Islands, a move condemned by both Vietnam and also the United States, which argued the “unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region.”

What is behind recent Chinese moves? How are China’s territorial disputes viewed in China? And what should we expect next? CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz will be answering readers’ questions on these and other recent developments.

Please leave your questions in the comments section below.

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Topics: China • Readers' questions
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