Why Chinese Officials Are Slacking Off at Their Jobs

Why Chinese Officials Are Slacking Off at Their Jobs
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (bottom) arrives at the closing session of the Chinese regime’s rubber-stamp legislature conference while other Communist Party officials applaud, in Beijing, on May 28, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Zhong Yuan
Chinese state-run media People's Daily published an article on Nov. 24, titled, “Always Keep in Mind the Word ‘Action’ as Your Top Priority.” I thought it was another piece that glorified the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but instead, it criticized CCP officials for being lazy, idle or slow at their jobs. But what’s really going on? Are officials slacking off at their jobs because they’re just being lazy or are there other reasons that the media won’t talk about?

CCP Slogans Don’t Work

The article raised some sensitive points: CCP officials “skirt around difficulties and are not proactive in resolving problems;” some believe that “the more you do, the more likely you are to make mistakes;” and “while it’s good to seek no merit, it’s better not to get demerits.”

At the Fifth Plenary Session this October, Chinese leader Xi Jinping claimed to have formulated a major strategic economic decision, referred to as “domestic circulation.” He also promulgated the 14th Five-Year Plan and the 2035 Vision that he expects to be implemented right away. However, officials at all levels appear to be generally passive and lack motivation. They continue to flatter and “obey” the top leadership, but they don’t have much to show for productivity—this is what high-level officials are worried about.

The article tried to dig into the root cause, positing that the inactivity is due to “fear of making a mistake,” which could be interpreted as an intention to commit wrongdoing. It then clarified the difference between “wrongdoing” and “errors,” and explained that “in the implementation of policies, losses due to unexpected and unforeseen factors should not be a reason for being held accountable.”

This is tantamount to recognizing the widespread phenomenon of unproductive officials. In order to encourage officials at all levels to do their jobs without fearing the repercussions, the CCP’s media was instructed to promise no punishment for “errors.”

The article further stated, “Those sacked officials were punished not because of errors but because they deliberately violated laws and discipline."

The Reality

"Why would people make such an excuse for not doing their jobs when they are just being very selfish?" the article stated. It went on to explain: "The room for corruption is getting smaller. Some people aren’t happy about it. Not only do they slack off but also come up with pessimistic excuses.”

The author was quite blunt about the state of the regime’s officialdom.

The Chinese communist officialdom is made up of cadres who are greedy for money and power. It is guaranteed that corrupt officials would reap the benefits from major projects in China, such as transportation and digital networks, through bribery and corruption.

 Workers walk past parked high-speed trains at a maintenance yard during a media tour ahead of the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, on Aug. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Workers walk past parked high-speed trains at a maintenance yard during a media tour ahead of the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, on Aug. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

However, if there are no incentives and no room for corruption, then officials would lack the motivation to perform their duties.

When the regime promotes its “domestic economic circulation” and Premier Li Keqiang preaches about tightening the purse strings, all parties involved are aware of the fact that corruption funds are shrinking.

A Warning

It is likely that People's Daily was ordered by senior officials to warn slackers at all levels: “Doing nothing is also wrong and will have consequences,” the article stated.

After years of carrying out Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign (among officials) and amid a deteriorating economy, the phenomenon of slackers among officials will only get worse.

But, in the beginning of the article, it claimed that errors can be forgiven.

So, is this bluff really going to work?

The article went on to reveal the Communist Party's main complaint: "The reason why many problems continue to worsen" is precisely because "cadres are lazy, idle, not working, and not responsible, and tedious issues thus evolve into major ones."

Was this hinting at the botched handling of COVID-19 when it first broke out in Wuhan city late last year and has now evolved into a global pandemic? Some officials were sacked after the outbreak. But who were the real culprits and who became the scapegoats?

In the end, the article touted the 14th Five-Year Plan as being "at the beginning" and "entering a new stage of development." The elaborate project requires one to "bear heavy burdens and gnaw hard bones," a Chinese saying that implies a daunting task.

However, no one is able to explain clearly what the "new development stage" entails so far. After all, there’s an unspoken concern shared by officials that the media wouldn’t dare to touch—the CCP is afraid of losing its legitimacy.

No Escape

Sanctions imposed by the United States continue one after another, and sanctions by other Western countries will likely follow. The sanctions make it difficult for CCP officials to flee and hide their assets overseas.

High-ranking CCP officials have elaborate plans in place if they need to flee the country. They’ve carefully arranged how and where to relocate their family members and their assets.

What if the officials’ family members are forced to give up foreign assets? If they all return to China, how can they be resettled? If a factional turmoil breaks out, the whole family might be implicated. Those who are part of the faction that opposes Xi will worry about retaliation against them. And those who support Xi have no guarantee that he can continue to hold onto power. Once the power shifts, there won’t be a safe haven.

As the CCP loses its grip on power, the elites in the mainland are at risk of being weeded out.

The escape route to the United States and other major Western countries are blocked. CCP officials at all levels are probably considering other smaller countries, or third world countries as an alternative.

It’s hard to believe that CCP officials are idle at this time. Since they are busy with making arrangements, they will naturally slack off at their jobs. The top leaders and the media are aware that this is happening, but no one dares to say anything about it.

The regime has been fighting hard with the United States and other Western countries such as engaging in wolf warrior diplomacy. As China’s economy is decoupling with other countries, Beijing is rolling out measures to strengthen the domestic economy in order to reduce its reliance on its trade partners. Not only is the CCP’s lifeline being cut off, but its power in the mainland has quite diminished. This is what CCP officials at all levels worry about the most, and the media is afraid of mentioning the topic.
Zhong Yuan is a Chinese affairs commentator who has been writing commentaries for the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times since 2020.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Zhong Yuan is a researcher focused on China’s political system, the country’s democratization process, human rights situation, and Chinese citizens’ livelihood. He began writing commentaries for the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times in 2020.