Anti-Corruption Campaign Has an App in China

June 22, 2015 Updated: June 23, 2015

First, Chinese citizens held protests calling for Communist Party officials to disclose their assets—they were summarily arrested and some sent to jail. Later, a group who protested for their release were also detained for “unlawful assembly.”

But now, the Chinese Communist Party has brought ‘harmony’ to the world of anti-corruption efforts, allowing Chinese smartphone users to download an app—run by the Party’s own disciplinary commission—with which to report official malfeasance, through official channels.

Recent reports indicate that use of the feature has settled at nearly 1,000 incoming reports per day, while the app itself almost certainly harvests user data such as IP address and phone type.

The link to a corruption reporting function on the mobile app of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Chinese Communist Party's anti-corruption agency. (Screen shot)
The link to a corruption reporting function on the mobile app of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency. (Screenshot via CCDI app)

China’s anti-corruption watchdog added the new function to its mobile app on June 18, allowing users to report Communist Party officials who engage in minor corruption and disciplinary violations.

The function is easily accessible to would-be tippers.

Tapping a large banner on the app’s home page brings up a list of 11 off-limit behaviors—”abusing public funds for dining or expensive entertainment”; “lavish weddings or funerals,” “inappropriate use of official vehicles,” and other common forms of misbehavior. From there, users can submit a 500 character write-up, and up to two photos or video clips to backup their claims. Anonymous reports—so far as anonymity is possible between citizens and the Party in China—are accepted.

Through the new app function, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) is looking to “build a convenient, fast and direct” platform to form a “ubiquitous oversight net,” the agency explained on its website.

Bringing citizen corruption reporting to mobile platforms seems to be working. On the day of the function’s debut, citizens sent 1,033 reports, 67 percent of which were from mobile users, according to an agency press release. CCDI previously received about 300 reports a day via the citizen corruption reporting portal on its official website.

“At its peak, we received three mobile app reports in a minute,” said a CCDI official to state-funded news website Peng Pai. “On average, we have been receiving one report every minute and a half.”

To handle the spike in whistleblowing, the anti-corruption agency will “add manpower, update the computer system, and streamline coordination among division,” reported state mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency.

Chinese netizens have applauded the mobile tip-off function on social media sites like Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, but some remain skeptical of its efficacy.

Netizen “Feng Yun Mo Ce” remarked: “It doesn’t have much success if the CCDI only plays a role as a courier. Is there tracking of each case? And what if the local bureaus neglect the reports?”

A CCDI official told Xinhua that the very first case sent through the mobile app involved the construction of an illegal office building and it was passed on to investigators in 10 minutes, but he didn’t say if any follow-up action was taken.

There’s also good reason to doubt the sincerity of the CCDI’s move to involve the masses in corruption surveillance. The Party has been turning down official monitoring and reporting from independent civil society groups, and there’s skepticism over the accuracy of the numbers released by the anti-corruption agency.

In March 2013, the year Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign commenced, four activists—Hou Xin, Yuan Dong, Zhang Baocheng, and Ma Xinli—were arrested and handed multiyear jail terms for “unlawful assembly.” The activists were petitioning authorities to reveal the assets of corrupt officials. In April, three activists—Zhao Changqing, Wang Yonghong, and Li Wei—who sought the release of the four were also detained for “unlawful assembly.”