When I watched the grand ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China at Tian’anmen Square on July 1, I just could not help being overwhelmed by a great sense of pride and good fortune for just being a Chinese. The popular Chinese patriotic song rings true with its lyrics: “Without the Communist Party of China, there would be no New China.” The achievements of the CPC in its first 100 years are truly remarkable. As CPC Central Committee General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out in his speech at the ceremony, “A century ago, at the time of its founding, the Communist Party of China had just over 50 members. Today, with more than 95 million members in a country of more than 1.4 billion people, it is the largest governing party in the world and enjoys tremendous international influence. A century ago, China was in decline and withering away in the eyes of the world. Today, the image it presents to the world is one of a thriving nation that is advancing with unstoppable momentum toward rejuvenation.”
Imagine that the CPC was formed in 1921 with only about 50 members! At that time, they had no weapons. Nobody could have imagined that such a minuscule party could win over the Kuomintang regime that had an army of more than 4 million soldiers, fully equipped with the latest weaponry by the Americans.
But the reason for the CPC’s eventual triumph is actually quite simple. The KMT was a corrupt regime. Its armies were undisciplined, greedy, and showed no respect for the people, whereas CPC soldiers were self-disciplined and cared for the ordinary people wherever they went. Once they liberated a particular region, they would govern it with compassion and fairness, and its officials and soldiers never exploited the people for personal benefits. The CPC’s success is largely because it has won the hearts of the people.
As Xi pointed out in his speech, inter alia , “A hallmark feature that distinguishes the Communist Party of China from other political parties is its courage in undertaking self-reform, its effective self-supervision and full and rigorous self-governance. The Party will continue to work hard to train high-caliber officials who have both moral integrity and professional competence, remain committed to improving Party conduct, upholding integrity, and combating corruption.”
Indeed, the main reason most initially successful political parties in the world cannot maintain their momentum is their tendency to become corrupt once they are in power, and its members cannot resist the temptation to abuse their new-found power. It’s a common manifestation of the adage “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”, which leads to their inevitable downfall. There are numerous examples of this globally, including South Korea, where several of its presidents were prosecuted for corruption! The other is Taiwan’s Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, who was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for corruption committed during his stint as leader of the island.
Right from the beginning, the CPC has enforced strict self-discipline and integrity among its members. Its first milestone decision was the establishment of the Central Supervision Committee in 1927. Shortly after assuming power in 1949, it set up the Central Commission for Disciplined Inspection and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate as the national anti-corruption organs.
The key characteristic of its early anti-corruption strategy is deterrence. In 1933, Chairman Mao Zedong personally signed the first anti-corruption law specifying that “any corruption case over 500 yuan should be given the death penalty”! One of the notable corruption cases in the early days was the conviction of high-ranking Party official Liu Qingshan for corruption. Liu was a heroic soldier in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) but turned corrupt after taking up the post as Party chief of Tianjin. The capital punishment order was signed personally by Mao in February 1952. The deterrent effect basically kept the Party in good order until reform and opening-up.
With China’s reform and opening-up in 1978, and power being delegated to regional governments to enhance efficiency, this unfortunately also led to corruption and collusion between some Party officials and businessmen, and even mafia-like gangs in sectors such as property and transport.
To cope with the problem, the National Audit Commission was set up in 1983. In 1985, a delegation from the Guangdong People’s Procuratorate visited the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption and was impressed with the ICAC’s three-pronged anti-corruption strategy, “education, prevention and deterrence”, which the central government later adopted as a national strategy. Anti-corruption bureaus similar to the ICAC were subsequently set up in the Supreme People’s Procuratorate as well as in all provincial procuratorates, as special investigative forces on corruption offenses. In 2017, China achieved a real milestone when the National People’s Congress announced the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency, the National Supervisory Commission, answerable only to the NPC, which appoints its head. This is, in effect, the first national independent anti-corruption agency in the 5,000 years of Chinese history! The new commission brought under one roof the various anti-corruption units in the procuratorates, the Ministry of Supervision and the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention, and was given power to investigate all Party members, civil servants, judges and prosecutors, as well as all employees of State-owned enterprises. Particularly noteworthy is that the Supervision Law adopted provisions to replace the old practice of arrest and detention, shuanggui, with appropriate checks and balances to prevent abuse. It was a major step forward in the implementation of the rule of law and human rights in China.
But the real break took place at the Party’s 18th Congress, when Xi declared the guiding principle of zero tolerance on corruption, whether they implicate “big tigers” or “small flies ”!
Since then, the disciplinary inspection and supervisory bodies have investigated 392 “corrupt tigers”, those who are at or above provincial or ministerial level, and 22,000 at the bureau level. About 170,000 officials at the township level were also investigated; 626,500 were disciplined for breach of code of conduct. A national survey showed that 95.8 percent of the people trusted the Party’s governance. This impressive record demonstrates the overwhelming support for the CPC among Chinese citizens.
On the international front, China fully understands the importance of international cooperation in the fight against corruption. China was among the first to sign and endorse the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2003, to take the lead in international cooperation. In 2006, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate initiated the setting up of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities, which is the equivalent of Interpol for anti-corruption agencies, with membership of over 140 countries. Its first three chairmanships were held by China’s chief procurators, with its headquarters in Beijing. In 2016, when China hosted the G20 conference in Hangzhou, Xi initiated the setting up of a G20 research center on anti-corruption, the Fugitive Repatriation and Asset Recovery, as a platform for G20 members to cooperate with each other. Since then, China has launched the Skynet anti-corruption operation, which resulted in 9,165 fugitives, mainly Party members and government officials, being brought back from 120 countries and US$3.37 billion in corrupt proceeds recovered. This demonstrated the recognition and assistance rendered globally to the CPC and the PRC government.
When Xi delivered his report at the Party’s 19th Congress, the first round of applause broke out when he declared the Party had secured a decisive victory against corruption!
As the UN has pointed out, corruption undermines development and the effort to alleviate poverty. It is therefore easy to see that the CPC’s success in combating corruption is the key factor to China’s robust and sustained economic growth in the past 40 years, reduction of poverty, public security, social well-being, effective and good governance, impressive technological and engineering feats and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
In a grand ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People on June 29, at the presentation of the July 1 Medals, Xi once again called upon the whole Party not to let up its efforts to serve the people, to maintain a high degree of integrity both in office and in private, to live an honest life, and to put the interests of the people above personal gains. For these are the tried-and-true virtues of the Party members that make the CPC excel!
The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and former deputy commissioner of the ICAC.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS