Anti-Corruption Campaign Aimed At Corruption, Not Enemies

A new paper finds the corruption crackdown is mainly aimed at corrupt officials. Corruption is a breeding ground for political factions and a loss of control. By reducing corruption, the Party increases unity and restores order. Rather than targeting specific factions, the Party is draining the swamp.

Rescuing Autocracy from Itself: China's Anti-Corruption Campaign
Abstract: In order to maintain popular support or at least acquiescence, autocrats must control the rapacious tendencies of other members of the governing elite. At the same time, the support of this elite is at least as important as the support of the broader population. This creates difficult tradeoffs and limits the autocrat's ability to enforce discipline. We explore this issue in the context of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's ongoing anti-corruption campaign. There have been two schools of thought about this campaign. One holds that it is nothing but a cover for intra-elite struggle and a purge of Xi's opponents, while the other finds more credibility in the CCP's claim that the movement is sincere. In this article, we demonstrate three facts, using a new dataset we have created. First, we use the political connections revealed by legal documents and media reports to visualize the corruption network. We demonstrate that although many of the corrupt officials are connected, Xi's most prominent political opponent, Bo Xilai, is less central by any network measure than other officials who were not viewed as challenging Xi's leadership. Second, we use a recursive selection model to analyze who the campaign has targeted, providing evidence that even personal ties to top leaders provided little protection. Finally, using another comprehensive dataset on the prefectural-city level, we show that the provinces later targeted by the corruption campaign differed from the rest in important ways. In particular, it appears that promotion patterns departed from the growth-oriented meritocratic selection procedures evidence in other provinces. Overall, our findings contradict the factional purge view and are more consistent with the view that the campaign is indeed primarily an attempt to root out systemic corruption problems.
On Bo Xilai:
People commonly believed that the crackdown on Bo was a real fight against the challenge to the CCP top leadership (Broadhurst and Wang, 2014). Actually, the corruption network in Figure 1 shows that fewer investigations of Bos followers have been announced by the CDIC. For example, the number of downfall cases linked to Bo Xilai is less than Shen Weichen, Jiang Jiemin and Bai Enpei who have the same administrative rank. Furthermore, it is also less than a couple of officials of lower administrative ranks, such as Wan Qiangliang, Li Chuncheng and Zhu Mingguo. If the anticorruption campaign aimed to crack down political rebellions, we should have seen more factional members of Bo Xilai in the network, not Su Rong12 who has never been regarded as a qualified rebel. According to the news and reports we’ve read, all investigated high-ranking leaders in Jiangxi
province were reported to have offered bribes to Su and his wife. Su even made a statement of confession in jail, pleading guilty for taking bribes from more than 40 different subordinates. As Figure 2 shows, Su Rong stands out of the downfall cases. He is recognized as one of the three centers of the network. The comparison between Bo Xilai and Su Rong indicates that the network doesn’t cluster to every center with the consideration of political sense. Corruption is more likely to be the way that how the network has extended.
I'm not sure this refutes the political argument with regards to Bo Xilai because it's unclear to me why the Party would seek to punish low level members who aren't corrupt. The political crackdown began before the anti-corruption campaign. The network linked to Bo Xilai was systematically taken apart, through the oil companies (a source of patronage jobs and path to advancement for the faction), all the way to Zhou Yongkang, and it's still going: Top Chinese general linked to disgraced security tsar Zhou Yongkang arrested for corruption.

The conclusion of the paper:
This article provides a couple of perspectives in studying the anti-corruption campaign launched by Xi and his colleagues. First of all, we recognize the corrupt network by collecting the political connections reported by media. Using data analysis and visualization, we are able to identify the main targets of the anti-corruption campaign, i.e. the three “Big Tigers”. Secondly, on provincial level, we confirm that those individually connected with the “Big Tigers” are more prone to getting investigated. However, there is no evidence that suggests the incumbent top leaders are providing shelters for their factional members. In other words, most factions within CCP are taking the same side as Xi Jinping in the anti-corruption campaign and hence the intra-elite struggle in the top CCP has been limited. According to previous literature (Nathan, 1973; Tsou 1976), this phenomenon occurs only when the whole authoritarian regime is under a great threat. So what exactly is the threat? In this article we propose that the way some specific factions selected and cultivated members has threatened the stability of the Party’s autocracy, which is the real reason why Xi’s anti-corruption campaign can obtain support from others in the top leadership.
Members such as Bo Xilai, who scared even ordinary Chinese citizens with his revival of Maoist era culture.

More broadly, the threat to stability and reform comes from thousands of party members ignoring central government diktats, pursuing private agendas ranging from simple graft to forming personal political empires. Xi Jinping is increasing his control over the party through anti-corruption efforts, but also the control of all the leadership. On that they can all agree.

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