21 November 2012

Over the last five years it has been China’s second most senior leader, Premier Wen Jiabao who has repeatedly delivered high profile speeches about fighting corruption and the need for Party members to be exemplary in their behaviour. At the start of the 18th National Congress earlier this month, retiring President Hu Jintao echoed the theme that corruption could “…kill the party and ruin the country”.

With the new guard taking over, that theme is unchanged. In his first speech at the Congress, new Party General Secretary and soon to be President Xi Jinping incorporated a couple of paragraphs about fighting corruption. He spoke of the duty to urgently resolve graft and corruption, for the party to enforce strict discipline and to keep in touch with the people.

Then at his first speech to the Politburo he rehearsed references to corruption that Chinese leaders have delivered in recent years and reiterated points he made in his inaugural speech on Thursday.

None of which suggests a change in practice.

Without change, scandals and revelations which have undermined confidence will continue, the nepotism and patronage at the top of the party will bring more scrutiny, and calls will strengthen for fundamental change to political and economic systems.

The new head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s s anti-corruption agency, is the sixth-ranking party official and on the seven-man Standing Committee of the Politburo. Critics say that he will follow established policies which will not “set the party straight”.

This approach to fighting corruption has relied on using party oversight against corruption . But “…the more powerful the Discipline Inspection Commission has become, the more serious corruption has become, because if you depend on secretively fighting corruption, you only encourage more corruption.”

All of which suggests the change in China’s leaders is not likely to do much to change the pattern of corruption.