With the conclusion of the central government transition to Xi Jinping’s leadership and a new cast of Politburo Standing Committee members, the news on China returns to a semi-normal state of affairs, which is to say there will be continued speculation on the short-term challenges facing the complex nation. After the run-up of anticipation for early signs of greater openness to reform ideas, we’re now left with luke-warm indications that there will be any kind of reform. Though not a shocking surprise, the absence of solid indications, positive or negative, leaves much of the Chinese population further disengaged from processes that could engage them with their country’s future.
Xi Jinping is right to have so quickly and publically identified corruption as a high priority issue to tackle. Yet as positive of a measure as it is, it still belies an internally-focused way of thinking. And there’s virtually no chance of any non-party member – to say nothing of the general population – becoming involved in the actual process of rooting out and disciplining corruption. The only roles to play are social commentator on Weibo or being a purveyor of comedic critique. Everyone seems to know exactly what the behaviors are that need changing; yet how very hard it will be to identify the precise counter-behavior a party boss ought best to engage for promoting righteousness.
The Chinese Communist Party will surely struggle to create, engage, and sustain new counter-corrupt behaviors. It may even do so willingly. But who will guide, lead, monitor, and teach these new counter-behaviors? Those who follow a path of self-nomination might turn out to be the worst offenders of all. Those who wait patiently for the party bosses to identify them as worthy of trust are likely to have already been pushed aside by the realities of the party’s internal system. Is there a credible body of leaders sizable and defensible enough to mount such an effort internally?
The evidence points to “no”. If Xi Jinping is to successfully move his party forward on a path of counter-corrupt behavioral reform, he is going to have to engage non-party elements to generate at least part of the solution. The Party will have to swallow hard as it chooses carefully those entities in whom it will invest its trust. Pride will be the bitterest pill; let’s hope there will be an accompanying spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.