The reforms of president Xi Jinping are gathering steam, writes political analyst Arthur Kroeber for the Brookings Institute. Xi´s struggle goes beyond just consolidating power, and is more about governance than economics, he argues.
Understanding the primacy of governance reform is essential to grasping the role of the anti-corruption campaign, which has resulted in the investigation or disciplining of over 70,000 officials at all levels of government in virtually every province, and has now spread to senior levels of the People’s Liberation Army. This campaign is often portrayed as a cynical effort by Xi Jinping to consolidate power, eliminate his enemies and curtail the influence of retired senior leaders, notably former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. These motives no doubt play a large role, but the campaign is too far-reaching, and has gone on for too long, for them to be a full explanation.
It is now apparent that the campaign’s central goal is to sharply reduce the system’s tolerance of corruption, which has been quite high since the beginning of economic reforms in the late 1970s. This, in turn, suggests a desire to renegotiate the basic bargain between the central and local governments that has held throughout the reform period. In essence, that bargain tasked local officials with maximizing economic growth, in exchange for which they were tacitly permitted to skim off part of the financial gains from that growth. Central authorities only cracked down when the graft reached grotesque proportions (as with smuggling scandals in Xiamen and other coastal cities in south China in the late 1990s), or when political and policy interests converged in an exemplary prosecution (as in the purge of Shanghai party Secretary Chen Liangyu in 2005, which both removed a Politburo rival to Hu Jintao and sent a message to cities to rein in property speculation).
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