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Two State-Run Media Publish Conflicting Opinions

[Editor’s Note: State media Huanqiu Online published a commentary on May 29, 2012, “Fighting Corruption Is a Tough Uphill Battle for China’s Social Development.” [1] The article stated that “corruption cannot be ‘fixed completely’ in any country. The key is to control it to a level the public can accept.” It added, “The public should understand the objective reality that China cannot completely suppress corruption at the present time.” On May 31, China Youth Daily countered Huanqiu‘s article by publishing an article, “Without a Change in the System and Democracy, There Is No Cure for Corruption.” [2] It stated that “the Party’s top leaders have stressed on many occasions that (we) must have zero-tolerance for corruption. Having zero-tolerance for corruption should be the current universal standard.”

It is rare to see two of China’s state media express completely opposite viewpoints. Voice of America (VOA) suggested that “the debate among top level state media indicates that the dispute among China’s top leaders is so great that even the Party’s Central Propaganda Department can no longer cover it up.” [3] The following are translations of excerpts from these articles.]

Huanqiu: “Huanqiu Commentary: Fighting Corruption Is a Tough Uphill Battle for China’s Social Development”

There is a high incidence of corruption in China. China currently lacks the necessary conditions to completely wipe out corruption. One might say that if (we) take the “democracy” approach, the corruption problem will be solved easily, but this view is too naïve. Many “democratic countries” in Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, India, etc., have worse corruption than China, but China might be the most outstanding Asian country in terms of people “feeling the worst pain about corruption.”

This is related to the fact that China’s official political ethic of “serving the people” is deeply rooted in the social consciousness. The reality, however, is that the market economy impedes its implementation. Many officials just go through the motions or even betray the principle. Because China is very much part of the modern world, the Chinese have seen the high standards in the developed countries. This has upset them and they can’t get over it.

Corruption cannot be “fixed completely” in any country. The key is to control it to a level the public can accept. However, it will be very hard for China to reach this point.

Singapore and Hong Kong adopted the approach of paying a high salary to officials to keep them upright. Many elected officials in the U.S. are wealthy. Once they become officials, they just need to build up a good reputation and develop a network. Once they leave office, they can use other means to convert this into cash. But this tactic is impossible in China.

In China, people will not accept a large scale increase in officials’ salaries. China’s system also does not allow officials to use their connections to make money after they leave office. Having wealthy people hold public office makes people feel China has “changed.” (Editor’s note: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used to represent the poor.) Thus, Chinese officials’ salaries remain at a low level. Some local officials rely on “hidden rules” [4] to obtain benefits.

Now the entire society in China follows certain “hidden rules.” Even public welfare professionals such as doctors and teachers follow these “hidden rules.” The income that many people receive on record is not high, but they have “grey income” (income that is on the border between legal and illegal).

The boundary for these “hidden rules” is not clearly defined. That is one of the reasons why there are now so many corruption cases and in some cases whole groups are involved in corruption. There is a saying that “The law cannot be enforced when everyone is an offender.” Once an official believes this saying and thinks, “Others do the same thing that I do,” then he is in a dangerous position.

People should strengthen their monitoring (of the officials) to fight corruption. The public should also understand the objective reality that China cannot completely suppress corruption at the present time. That way the nation as a whole will not be unduly upset.

Having said this does not mean that we think fighting corruption is unimportant or that the issue should be deferred. Quite the contrary; we think that fighting corruption should be the number one issue that gets resolved through China’s political reform. It is also a goal shared by the entire nation.

However, we believe that corruption cannot be dealt with just by “opposing” it or by “reform.” It needs “(economic) development” to help fix it. It is a problem not only of corrupt officials themselves, but also of the system itself. Moreover, it is a problem of China’s social “comprehensive development level.” (Corruption exists because China’s development level is low.)

Fighting corruption is a tough uphill battle for China’s development. Victory in this area also depends on clearing other kinds of hurdles. China wouldn’t last long if its officials were honest but the country as a whole was behind in many other areas. Dealing with corruption is a breakthrough point for China, but the country can only “advance in these areas comprehensively.”

China Youth Daily: “Without a Change in the System and Democracy, There Is No Cure for Corruption”

Although corruption (in China) has not been effectively controlled, the Party’s top leaders have stressed on many occasions that (we) must have zero-tolerance for corruption. Having zero-tolerance for corruption should be the current, universal standard, a rare common standard that this broken society can embrace. However, there are some media that support the idea that “people should allow a certain level of corruption.”

Huanqiu Times recently published a commentary, “Fighting Corruption Is a Tough Uphill Battle for China’s Development.” From the title, one might think the commentary criticized corruption and promoted anti-corruption efforts, but besides the official words about fighting corruption, that had no real meaning, it included several stunning statements. For example, it stated, “Corruption cannot be ‘fixed completely’ in any country. The key is to control it to a level the public can accept,” and: “The public should also understand the objective reality that China cannot completely suppress corruption at the present time. That way the nation as a whole will not be unduly upset.” “Obviously, China has a high occurrence of corruption. It currently lacks the necessary conditions to completely cure corruption.”

Stripping away the word games that sugar-coat its viewpoint, the essence of the article is the startling notion to “tolerate corruption”: “Corruption cannot be completely fixed, so the public should tolerate a certain-level of corruption. In reality people must face a certain amount of corruption.” This illegal, nonsensical notion goes along with the notion that “corruption is the lubricant for economic development.” It is used simply to justify the rationality and legitimacy of the existence of corruption.

Is it true? If the people truly took ownership (of the country), who would tolerate the existence of corruption?

The commentary continued, “China might be the most outstanding Asian country with people having a ‘feeling of pain about corruption.’” After this statement, one might expect the author to then extend his criticism to the abuse of power and to the lack of restrictions on power. However, the author reached an incredible conclusion: “This is related to the fact that China’s official political ethics of ‘serving the people’ is deeply rooted in China’s social consciousness.” Don’t be surprised. Actually this conclusion is in sync with the main theme of the article. This “breathtaking jump” in logic is what it says: China is not the worst country in terms of corruption, but just the most outstanding country with worst “feelings of pain about corruption.” Why is it so painful? It is not because corruption is so bad, but because the official political ethic of “serving the people” gives the public an unrealistic expectation about officials. Since the reality is very different from the propaganda, people feel pain.

Following this logic, one can easily reach the conclusion that people find a level of corruption acceptable. This is because, facing the most outstanding pain about corruption, the article’s prescription is not to use the law to restrict power and use law enforcement to put the powerful in prison, but rather a self-deceptive anesthetic: reducing the unrealistic expectation placed on officials’ morality. If we can reduce our expectations and tolerate a certain level of corruption, then we apply the lowest standards to ourselves so nothing bothers us any more. We can then psychologically accept that officials can have an appropriate amount of corruption. When facing the corruption, we won’t feel so much pain any more; we can be at ease.

How ridiculous! If those who are fighting corruption truly accept this absurd theory, instead of spending efforts to oppose corruption and taking a zero-tolerance stand to strictly control and punish corruption, just letting the public lower their psychological expectations and accept corruption in order for all parties to attain happiness, then our endeavor to fight corruption is moving into very dangerous territory. Such an absurd view does not truly show caring for the officials or thinking about this nation’s future; it results in harm to the country. Even under the current mindset of “zero-tolerance,” corruption has become quite rampant. Now if we go with the theory that “corruption should be tolerated,” with this theoretical support and excuse, how rampant will corruption be in China?

Is it because the official line of “serving the people” has created an unrealistic expectation for the public, which then causes the public’s painful feeling about corruption? Of course not. “Serving the people” is not a standard indigenous to China. This is the responsibility of public servants in every country. Which country’s public servants do not need to serve their people? The only difference is how they describe it. Some may say “serving public affairs,” “serving the public welfare,” etc. This is a public servant’s promise and a universal standard. The distress about corruption is coming from the corruption itself. To get rid of the painful feeling, one should work on fighting corruption systematically and use a system that controls power.

We cannot compromise on corruption. Any naïve thought of controlling corruption to the level that the people find acceptable, which, in essence, means sacrificing a certain amount of public interest in exchange for political decency or using “tolerating a small amount of corruption” to get officials “not to engage in a lot of corruption,” is pure, idiotic nonsense.

The issue of corruption can’t be resolved by “development.” Just as economic development can’t bring overall improvements to social civilization and moral standards, economic development can’t resolve the corruption problem. Corruption is not the lubricant for economic development. For the same reason, development will not result in an end to corruption. Without a change in the system and democracy, there is no cure for corruption.

VOA Online: “Two Top Level State Media Debate Corruption; the Central Propaganda Department Can’t Keep Them under Control?”

Beijing political commentator Chen Jieren praised China Youth Daily for publishing an article to rebut Huanqiu Times. He said that, for the two media to express their viewpoints on fighting corruption shows, at the central level, the differences in their value systems.

Chen said, “For a long time, these two newspapers have represented two different points of view. Huanqiu Times represents the extreme left, the voice of the small group that is the current beneficiary of power and the voice that is anti-democracy and anti-law. China Youth Daily, on the other hand, is an open voice that advocates and supports democracy and law.”

Vice Professor Li Lifeng from the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said that the debate among the top level state media indicates that the dispute among China’s top leaders is so great that even the Party’s Central Propaganda Department can no longer cover it up.

According to Li, these debates within the media reflect the differences among the leaders. It does not mean that the situation regarding freedom of speech in China is improving, nor does it mean that the Central Propaganda Committee cannot control the Chinese media anymore.

Endnotes:
[1] Huanqiu Online, “Huanqiu Commentary: Fighting Corruption Is a Tough Uphill Battle for China’s Social Development,” May 29, 2012.
http://opinion.huanqiu.com/1152/2012-05/2765016.html.
[2] China Youth Online, “Without a Change in the System and Democracy, There Is No Cure for Corruption,” May 31, 2012.
http://zqb.cyol.com/html/2012-05/31/nw.D110000zgqnb_20120531_1-02.htm.
[3] VOA Online, “Two Top Level State Media Debating on Corruption, Central Propaganda Department Can’t Keep Them Under Control?” May 31, 2012.
http://www.voanews.com/chinese/news/20120530-Two-central-publications-155905315.html.
[4] 潜规则, or “Hidden Rules,” refers to rules under the table, or rules that are not defined openly but that people widely accept. In many contexts, it refers to rules relating to corruption.
http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%BD%9C%E8%A7%84%E5%88%99.

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