The Chinese regime has announced a rollout date for a state-run anti-corruption body, a new governing institution that has been met with both skepticism and guarded optimism from observers.
The “national supervisory commission” will likely be inaugurated during the regime’s annual parliamentary sessions in March 2018, Wu Yuliang, the deputy head of the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency, told reporters at a news briefing on Jan. 9. In responding to a reporter’s query, Xiao Pei, the regime’s supervision ministry vice head, suggested that the commission could eventually be put on par with the Chinese legislature or other equivalent state institution.
A pilot program has already been set up in Beijing and the provinces of Shandong and Zhejiang at the provincial, municipal and county levels of government. The commission will share staff and offices with the existing anti-corruption agencies.
The commission will have oversight over the conduct of government and state-owned enterprise workers, employees of publicly-funded organizations, and Chinese Communist Party cadres. It is authorized to conduct interrogations, make detentions, seize assets, and punish officials under investigation for corruption.
The existing anti-corruption apparatus, however, cannot prosecute individuals found guilty of massive corruption, which form the bulk of corruption cases under Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. The apparatus has also come under international scrutiny for using a brutal and extralegal detention and interrogation measure known as “shuanggui”; such actions can only be carried out by the police, prosecutors, and the new supervisory commission under Chinese law.
The policing of Party cadres and government officials in the Chinese regime is presently conducted by the Party’s Central Committee for Discipline Inspection and the state government’s Ministry of Supervision. The former agency deals with individual disciplinary cases, while the latter focuses on institutional corruption.
The anti-corruption apparatus presently answers to the Party-run executive branch at all levels of government. The new supervisory commission will instead report to the Chinese legislature, and as indicated by the supervision ministry’s vice head.
On paper, the Xi leadership is creating nonpartisan supervisory oversight in the regime. But anti-corruption deputy Wu Yuliang said that there is “no such thing as a so-called ‘independent’ supervisory institution that doesn’t accept the Party’s leadership.”
Party organizations have primacy over their state counterparts in the Chinese regime’s governing apparatus. For instance, the state Central Military Commission is technically the top military decision making body in the regime, but the People’s Liberation Army answers to the Party’s version of the military commission.
Thus, some observers believe that the current Party leadership is merely boosting the powers of its anti-corruption agency with the new supervisory commission. Because the commission is structurally separate from the Party’s executive control, observers also believe that the commission will be more answerable to the central leadership as opposed to lower-level Party actors that could influence investigations.
Conversely, in the probable event that the present leadership decides to move beyond the Party, there would be in place a national supervisory institution similar to “imperial censors or the police systems of pre-modern China, or the Republic of China’s Control Yuan,” said Li Tianxiao, a senior political commentator with New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD). If this scenario plays out, then the new supervisory commission will be viewed in hindsight as a major systemic reform, he added. NTD is a sister media of this newspaper.
Li said that the supervisory commission and yet to be released set of revised supervision laws could allow Xi Jinping, if he so chose, to bring the regime closer to “rule of law,” and lay the groundwork for legally arresting and prosecuting former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin.
As de facto ruler of the Chinese regime for nearly two decades, Jiang and his powerful political faction entrenched a culture of corruption and kleptocracy, and also carried out a severe persecution campaign against one of China’s largest spiritual communities. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has thus far mainly targeted Jiang’s faction, and Xi had hinted in speeches last year that the crimes of purged top allies of Jiang are political, not mere corruption.