China’s ‘naked’ officials

Posted in China, Current Affairs, Media, politics, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on June 8, 2012

The Chinese media ‘bares’ its soul on ‘naked’ officials. Western media triumphalist. Reality is the victim.

Cartoon rendition of China's naked official  |  Cartoon on July 26, 2010 on the 'naked' officials phenomenon in chinahush.com; artist credit not available at source  |  Click for image.

Cartoon rendition of China’s naked official | Cartoon on July 26, 2010 on the ‘naked’ officials phenomenon in chinahush.com; artist credit not available at source | Click for image.

Indian Tales

Indian media usually limits China coverage to three themes.

Progress Theme: China is progressing; has become a world-player; will it replace USA as the economic and military super-power.

Threat To India: China’s threat to India; The China-Pakistan axis which will ‘finish’ India.

Ape The Chinese: What India must learn from China; How India must be more like China.

Nearly all of Indian media coverage can be slotted into these three categories.

Are the Chinese also on the same page? Especially ‘ordinary’ Chinese?

Stories from China

The Chinese?

They, but have, different stories.

Sex: Non-existent sex lives of Many versus overactive sex-lives of the few. What must the State do about the non-existent sex lives of many Chinese.

Executions: The unresponsive State wishes to show itself as sensitive to public-opinion by pandering to public demand for killings and punishments of ‘corrupt’ officials.

Western media is equally busy:

Predicting: The down fall of China;

Drooling: Over ‘horror’ stories from China; to be fair, Western media drools over horror stories back at home too.

World Domination: If it is not these two themes, then China is taking over the world.

If US leaders do not peddle the China-threat story, how will Obama win an election?

Birathers – take a 2ndlook!

‘Naked’ Officials

Not what you think.

Over the last 2 years, an interesting story has built up in China – the story of 裸体官员; (pinyin) luǒtǐ guānyuán, often shortened to 裸官 (pinyin) luǒ guān. ‘Naked’ officials.

What or who are these ‘naked’ officials? The English language edition of People’s Daily Online, in an article some time back, defined these bureaucrats and officials as,

rogues in government have become the latest target that commentators, and the public, love to hate. With a wife or husband and children overseas, little money in the bank here and no home of their own, the often high-flying thieves of the public purse have earned the euphemistic nickname “naked official.”

Even though this topic has been active in media and the Chinese internet, recent incidents have revived interest and coverage even in the Western media. From Britain, The Economist writes

THE phrase “naked official”, or luo guan, was coined in 2008 by a bureaucrat and blogger in Anhui province, Zhou Peng’an, to describe officials who have moved their family abroad, often taking assets with them. Once there, they are beyond the clutches of the Communist Party in case anything, such as a corruption investigation, should befall the official, who is left back at home alone (hence “naked”). Mr Zhou says the issue has created a crisis of trust within the party, as officials lecture subordinates on patriotism and incorruptibility, but send their own families abroad.(via Moving the family abroad: Hedging their bets | The Economist).

The naked official (wearing the traditional hat of an official) is putting "public funds" into a bag labeled "corruption." The official is in China and his wife and daughter are abroad.  |  Image source & credit - chinadigitaltimes.net  |  Click for image.

The naked official (wearing the traditional hat of an official) is putting “public funds” into a bag labeled “corruption.” The official is in China and his wife and daughter are abroad. | Image source & credit – chinadigitaltimes.net | Click for image.

How deep and how wide is this problem?

Zhou Peng’an, a member of China Democratic League, one of China’s Non-Communist Parties and a popular blogger, asked “How many corrupt officials are naked?” in July 2008.

The answer to Zhou’s question varies widely.

Lin Zhe, a well-known anti-corruption expert, speaking angrily at last year’s legislative session, estimated that almost 1.2 million officials went naked between 1995 and 2005.

A report by People’s Bank of China in June last year suggested corrupt officials had smuggled an estimated 800 billion yuan ($124 billion) out of China between 1995 and 2008. The bank said research by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences indicated that between 16,000 to 18,000 government employees, including police officers, judicial officers, senior managers of government institutions and State-owned companies, had fled abroad during that period.

The bank’s report, which was posted on its website but has since been taken off line, was widely reported in the media. (via Naked and corrupt – People’s Daily Online).

The Chinese Government is unsure about the methodology of an earlier report – now withdrawn. Official media has no hesitation in covering this topic – and only rampant speculation, rumor-mongering is being controlled.

The People’s Bank of China last year inadvertently made public a confidential study stating that 800 billion Chinese yuan ($126 billion at today’s exchange rate) had been siphoned overseas by thousands of officials in the government and state-owned companies from the mid-1990s until 2008.

Another report by the Washington-based watchdog Global Financial Integrity, which tracked illicit outflow of money by all people, not just officials, found China led the world with $2.7 trillion (five times as much as runner-up Mexico) illegally taken out of the country from 2000 to 2009. (via China steps up efforts to keep officials from leaving country – latimes.com).

So, what events have revived interest in these ‘naked’ officials?

One man is all it takes

The scene – US Consulate at Chengdu.

On the evening of Feb. 6, a vice mayor of a major Chinese city who had a reputation as a crime fighter turned up at the American Consulate in Chengdu in an agitated state, telling a tale of corruption and murder that has ensnared the Obama administration in a scandal it wants nothing to do with.

The official, Wang Lijun, sought asylum, fearing for his life even as Chinese security forces quickly surrounded the building and asked the American diplomats inside to turn him over.

Instead, after a frantic debate that reached the White House, Mr. Wang stayed until he could arrange for an official from a Beijing ministry to come 36 hours later and escort him past the local security cordon. The authorities from Beijing took him into custody, and he is now under investigation for divulging internal Chinese affairs to the Americans. If charged with and convicted of treason, he could face a death sentence.

The information Mr. Wang possessed involved Bo Xilai, who was the Communist Party chief in Chongqing until last month and Mr. Wang’s onetime patron before a falling-out led Mr. Wang to seek refuge in the consulate (via Frenzied Hours for U.S. on Fate of a China Insider – NYTimes.com).

With Wang Lijun in the US Consulate, the story took a life of its own. It could no longer be suppressed. Chinese discussion forums, chat rooms, message boards exploded. Wang Lijun patron-in-Chief, Bo Xilai was put out in the cold. His wife was arrested.

Was this entire incident engineered?

at the Communist Party’s 18th five-yearly Congress in the autumn, Hu and other leaders will retire, forced out by age limits, and up to this week the seven vacancies were being contested by up to nine current Politburo members, including Bo. (via INSIGHT – With Bo Xilai down, nine leaders who may soon run China | Reuters).

One American ‘think-tank’ seems to be confirming that this entire fracas was engineered. Was this an intricate power-struggle within the Chinese communist party? A faction feud? Was it a case of Dengist-Reformers taking down a Mao-Loyalist?

This is a particularly delicate time in Chinese politics. A new-generation of leaders are expected to take over from retiring leaders in November this year.

Zhou Yongkang, who turns 70 this year, will step down from the standing committee along with Hu and Wen after the 18th National Congress to make way for Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and the younger generation of party leaders. The Chinese government requires politicians 68 and older to step down during leadership changes. (via Politburo Standing Committee to be reduced to seven: Boxun|Politics|News|WantChinaTimes.com).

Whatever, it was,

The issue of official corruption has risen to the top of the government agenda this year with the ouster in March of Politburo member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai. Among the myriad accusations swirling around Bo is that his wife moved the couple’s money out of the country through trading companies set up abroad with an Englishman, Neil Heywood, whom she is accused of killing. In addition, the couple’s son, Bo Guagua, was sent overseas to school, first to Harrow, then Oxford and more recently Harvard’s Kennedy School, where he graduated last month.

The practice has become so endemic in China’s officialdom that the Communist Party’s top disciplinary body is enacting an “anti-flight” program to keep people in place. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection last month reviewed ways to keep people from moving abroad, including confiscating passports and registering family members living overseas as a way to monitor who might be kept out of high positions.

Chinese prosecutors say 18,487 officials, including executives from state-owned companies, have been caught during the last 12 years while allegedly trying to flee overseas with ill-gotten gains, according to this week’s issue of China Economic Weekly. The magazine described the typical “naked official” as a man in his 50s who was approaching retirement and had accumulated at least $13 million. (via China steps up efforts to keep officials from leaving country – latimes.com).

Bo Xilai, son of Bo Yibo, one of the Eight Elders of the Communist Party of China, was already a member of the 25-member Politburo (2007-2012). The 25-member Politburo is itself drawn from the 150-member Central Committee chosen by the party congress.

One of the “princelings” from Chinese politics, Bo Xilai was widely expected to be elevated up from the 25-member Politburo to the 9-member Politburo Standing Committee in November this year.

On Jan. 16, Bo Xilai, who then still ran the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, has been ousted first from his position as Chongqing party secretary, then his seats on the Communist Party’s Politburo and Central Committee. His wife Gu Kailai has been arrested for murder in connection with the death of Neil Heywood, a British businessman with a long connection to the Bo family who died in Chongqing last fall.

A former Bo deputy, ex-Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, revealed his suspicions over Heywood’s death in a visit to a U.S. consulate in February before being taken into custody by state security officers.

Bo’s purge has been labeled the biggest leadership upheaval in China since soldiers crushed the Tiananmen movement on June 4, 1989. But that comparison is more an expression of how tightly the party has managed politics over the past two decades than the potential for similar upheaval today.

Bo had been a front runner for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee, the top ruling body, and his downfall creates a significant political vacuum others are vying to fill. But officials of his status, if not outsize personality, have been toppled before, including Beijing party secretary Chen Xitong, who was ousted in an anticorruption campaign in 1995, and Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was dismissed in 2006 and later sentenced to 18 years in prison for abusing the city’s pension fund.

Unlike those of disgraced Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu, Bo’s case involves a murder allegation. The other major difference between Bo and his fellow fallen officials is the way he cultivated a public following through his popular campaign against organized crime — which many critics have said trampled the rule of law — efforts to revive Mao-era “red culture” and an emphasis on social benefits for poorer Chongqing residents. His popularity makes his removal that much more complicated.

Likewise, the Chinese military, with which Bo had cultivated close ties, has been ordering anticorruption study sessions that emphasize the disgraced Chongqing leader’s case, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported on Friday. But while those public messages indicate a wariness of Bo’s residual influence, there is little sign that his removal will cause waves of the magnitude felt in 1989. “This was a major takedown of an extraordinary figure by the party apparatus,” says Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst. “It’s thus far been done with little political fallout and very little, if any, reaction in the streets.

Most every day sees a new revelation in Bo’s case. Reuters reported on Monday that Heywood had been poisoned in a hilltop guesthouse the news agency identified as the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel after threatening to reveal Gu’s plans to send money abroad. And U.S. officials, who had been silent over Wang’s visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, a city about 200 miles (320 km) from Chongqing, have finally begun to talk, telling the New York Times on Tuesday that Wang entered the consulate “telling a tale of corruption and murder.”

Those developments have been widely discussed online in China, despite efforts to block posts containing sensitive information and rumors, including a three-day shutdown of comments on Chinese microblogs. Those conversations will be uncomfortable for China’s leaders, particularly as they consider how someone like Bo came so close to the country’s highest echelon of power. But they’re far happier having people talking online than taking to the streets. (via How Bo Xilai Will Affect China’s Leadership Transition | Global Spin | TIME.com).

After all this action, the Chinese leadership is left with options on how to close the Bo Xilai chapter.

China’s leadership faces a knotty choice in how to finish off fallen politician Bo Xilai without further damaging the Communist Party’s image: Purge him the old-fashioned way — in secret — or run him through a public trial. The challenge is to prevent lurid allegations that Bo abused his power and that his wife was involved in the murder of a British businessman from upsetting a once-a-decade leadership transition just months away.

After months of investigation and high-level deliberations, leaders believe a trial will have more public legitimacy. While the unproven allegations against Bo range from illegal wiretapping to illicit sexual liaisons, the ones that likely reflect worst on the party involve graft and flouting basic laws.

Many Chinese see those vices as endemic among their leaders, despite repeated avowals by the party to end them. His popularity makes Bo’s case particularly tricky and bolsters the chance for a trial, analysts said. Both Bo’s sympathizers among communist conservatives and their more liberal rivals are demanding one.

State media raised expectations for a trial in the wake of Bo’s ouster by repeatedly declaring that no one is above the law and that the legal process must run its course. (via China Mulls Public Trial for Ousted Politico – TIME).

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
Thanks Bob Marley for this line.

With an impatient populace breathing down its back, the Chinese Government had to be seen as taking some action.

The central government and the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued a regulation last May calling on “naked officials” to draw up reports about their emigrated family members in 60 days or be prepared for punishment.

“We have to be more aggressive and active in managing naked officials,” Zhao Xiaoqing, a press officer of Beijing Municipal People’s Procuratorate, told the official media. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China directed the procuratorate and other related authorities to participate in the campaign, he said. (via China’s ‘naked officials’ come under closer scrutiny – Times Of India).

The Chinese Government publicized a series of actions across China, to control the situation – and assuage public anger.

The Communist Party of China’s (CPC) disciplinary body last week announced its latest victory in the fight against corruption, declaring that efforts to tighten the net on “naked” officials – or those who remain in the country while their spouses and children live abroad – had yielded success.

“A number of officials who have attempted to run away have been stopped, while some officials already overseas have been brought to justice,” the Ministry of Supervision declared in a statement posted on its website.

Authorities have implemented various measures including monitoring the whereabouts of officials’ family members, scrutinizing their travel, controlling their passports and investigating the source of large sums of money transferred overseas.

Authorities in Guangdong, another pilot province, have also kept a close eye on officials’ travel to and from the Chinese mainland.

Liu Xiaohua, Party head of Zhanjiang, Guangdong, revealed in January that the planned promotion of an official was scrapped after it was revealed he visited Hong Kong, where his family had moved to and settled, more than 20 times within a year.

In many local governments, officials’ passports are kept by administrators and only given out after strict personal assessment or for formal overseas tours.

Nevertheless, some corrupt officials manage to fly under the radar. Liu Defu, a former bureau chief in Guangzhou, filed for 20 days’ leave in 2010 and went to the US with his passport on a “personal” trip. He never returned and today lives with his family, who emigrated to the US years earlier.

One of China’s most infamous “naked” officials is Pang Jiayu, the former mayor of Baoji in Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. Pang’s wife and son emigrated to Canada in 2002, but before the corrupt ex-mayor could join them he was arrested and sentenced in 2008 to a 12-year jail term for bribery and dereliction of duty. His family is reportedly still living a life of luxury in Canada.

The flagship Party magazine, Qiushi, or “Seeking Truth,” will publish an article today by He Guoqiang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

He wrote in the article that China will take further steps to combat corruption and build a clean government in order to benefit people and gain people’s trust. (via Anti-corruption measures clamp down on ‘naked’ officials eyeing an escape).

Like oil on water

In much of this reportage in the Chinese and Western media there was much that was superficial.

All this raises many doubts and some questions?

Can and should the State have restrictions on education abroad? Limitations on travel abroad? Or a long-term stay abroad?

Some of these reports talk of life of luxury abroad. What luxuries can you get in Canada or USA, which are not available in China?

Does the defection of these few thousand corrupt bureaucrats, signify a loss of faith in the future of China? Like some Western media reports suggest. What could be so deeply wrong with China that makes some of these bureaucrats plan this defection so many years in advance?

The fact that people send their spouses and children abroad does not necessarily mean they are corrupt — many Chinese prefer a foreign education, for example — but when an entire family leaves, authorities presume that an official does not envision a future in China. Chinese officials, including executives of state-owned companies, often have two passports, one for business and the other for personal travel.

“It’s very hard for the government to control this. They might hold your official passport, but most people will have a private passport as well and they can slip out of the country with that,” said He.

For every new restriction implemented, people come up with loopholes. The fake divorce, for example.

“The Chinese Communist Party is very strict about officials and their families having green cards or foreign passports. If they find out, that’s the end of your political career, but people will do a divorce on paper and then remarry,” said Ding Xueliang, a Hong Kong-based political scientist. (via China steps up efforts to keep officials from leaving country – latimes.com).

Cartoon depicting the capture of a fleeing naked official  |  Image courtesy & source - chinadigitaltimes.net  |  Click for image.

Cartoon depicting the capture of a fleeing naked official | Image courtesy & source – chinadigitaltimes.net | Click for image.

You do not have to be corrupt to be “naked”, however. Sending your family abroad is simply a state of maximum readiness. It does not suggest huge confidence in a stable Chinese future. Many wealthy businessmen have also been preparing exit strategies. One of the most common legitimate routes involves immigrant-investor programmes in America, Canada or Hong Kong, typically requiring an investment of up to $1m. Chinese nationals have rushed to apply for these. Three-quarters of applicants for America’s programme last year were Chinese.

The less well-heeled obtain passports from other countries—in the South Pacific, Africa or Latin America—at more affordable prices (as low as $20,000). Li Chengyan, director of the Centre for Anti-Corruption Studies at Peking University, says countries that do not have an extradition treaty with China are particularly popular among corrupt officials. One crooked former governor of Yunnan province was found to have five foreign passports. “No need to wait for a visa if they have to run,” says Mr Li. (via Moving the family abroad: Hedging their bets | The Economist).

What exactly are they fleeing from?

Looking at how some of these ‘naked’ officials are rushing to the South Pacific, Africa or Latin America, it is no indictment of future of China.

But it probably, is an indictment of the judicial system in China.

Is it China’s liberal use of the death sentence, which has created the disquiet. While 30-years of death sentences have not reduced corruption, it has certainly triggered the search for an escape from this random kind of justice.

Naked and in plain sight.

Story so far

There are many other elements to the Chinese puzzle.

Earlier posts examined the Chinese economy without the support of a cheap yuan that boosted exports for the last nearly twenty years. Will China go the Japan way? The mysterious manner in which the Buddhist monk has disappeared from Chinese movies is an ominous feature. Especially when the Buddhist monk has been replaced by gangsters.

Tibetan protests in the form of self-immolation by priests and nuns have unnerved the Chinese administration. Even in the past, in the 1965 and the 1971 India Pakistan Wars, China had maintained a distant attitude towards Pakistan. Indian Navy in the South China Sea, in alliance with Vietnam, is a significant counter-measure to posturing in the Indian North East by China.

China’s liberal use of the death sentence, has created disquiet in its bureaucracy – giving rise to the ‘naked’ officials. While 30-years of death sentences have not reduced corruption, it has certainly triggered the search for an escape from this random kind of justice. China’s implementation of the population dogma peddled by the West has emptied the lives of Chinese – created masses of people who have solitary sex.

2ndlook – Catching on and catching up on the emerging China picture.

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  1. admin said, on June 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm

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