China's White Paper on Corruption and Official Anti-Corruption Efforts

December 14, 2011

The State Council of China issued China's first white paper on corruption titled "China's Efforts to Combat Corruption and Build a Clean Government" in late December 2010, amid an official "anti-corruption storm," high-profile arrests of corruption suspects, and ongoing announcements of new anti-corruption measures. While the white paper did not outline new policy directions, it gave unusual attention to citizen participation in anti-corruption efforts. Over the last few months, central authorities also promoted in the media official channels for citizens to report possible instances of corruption and outlined protections for whistleblowers in government circulars. Whistleblower protections, however, remain inadequate in practice and some non-governmental Web sites that posted reports on alleged corruption have faced cyber attacks and authorities have threatened to close Web sites or warned some webmasters to shut down their sites.

The Information Office of the State Council issued China's first white paper on corruption titled "China's Efforts to Combat Corruption and Build a Clean Government" (English) (Chinese) on December 29, 2010, which acknowledges that corruption in China remains a problem and attributes its persistence to changes in China's economic and social systems as well as "incomplete anti-corruption mechanisms." The white paper followed reported statements by Premier Wen Jiabao saying that the root of corruption lies with the failure to restrict and supervise authority and that corruption is the largest threat to Communist Party rule and government legitimacy (China Review, 27 August 10). The white paper (Section IV) asserts that transparency of government operations is the "best supervision of power" and that China values supervision by the general public and by "public opinion" (i.e., the media) in combating corruption and building a clean government. It explains that citizens participate in "supervision" by filing complaints and making suggestions through institutionalized channels, and it outlines regulatory protections for corruption case informants. News reports, however, continue to detail cases of retribution against whistleblowers (see details below), and authorities reportedly also have censored several non-governmental "confess a bribe" and other independent corruption monitoring Web sites. The white paper came amid the release of several new or revised central-level anti-corruption measures (People's Daily, index, accessed 7 August 11), and a wide-scale anti-corruption campaign (People's Daily, 20 December 10).

Regulatory Protections for Whistleblowers
The white paper states that authorities "attach great importance to protecting the legitimate rights and interests" of informants (Chapter Four) and notes that authorities included stipulations protecting the confidentiality of informants in China's Criminal Law (Article 254), Criminal Procedure Law (Articles 84-85), and internal regulations of the Communist Party. The white paper also notes China signed the United Nation's 2003 Convention Against Corruption. As a signatory, China agreed to Convention Articles that call on State Parties to incorporate into their domestic legal systems measures to protect citizens who report on offences related to corruption (Article 33). The white paper also pointed out that Chinese authorities also enshrined protection for informants in additional laws and regulations:

  • China's Constitution in principle gives citizens the right to "criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary…" and "[n]o one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them" (Article 41).
  • The State Council's 2005 Regulations on Letters and Visits (Xinfang Tiaoli) (English) (Chinese), also stipulate that citizens have the right to make reports or complaints without retribution (Articles 1-3).
  • On June 25, 2010, Chinese officials issued a revision to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Administrative Supervision that stipulates personal information about whistleblowers should be kept confidential and their rights protected in accordance with measures established by the State Council (Article 6). Further, it stipulates that it is a crime to release information about an informant or the circumstances of an informant's report, subject to punishment and criminal liability will be pursued (Article 46).

Protections for Whistleblowers Remain Insufficient in Practice
In practice, however, protections for whistleblowers at this time remain insufficiently developed. More than 70 percent of the cases of government work-related corruption offenses filed with procuratorate offices in the past few years initially involved a tip from an informant (Legal Daily, 21 June 10), but 70 percent of those informants reportedly faced some form of retribution (Legal Daily, 17 June 2010). Over the last year, Chinese and international media have highlighted several instances of retribution against whistleblowers (China Media Project, 19 April 11; China Daily, 3 December 10; and South China Morning Post [SCMP], 3 December 10—subscription required).

While authorities state they encourage public supervision and have established official tip sites, officials have reportedly blocked non-governmental whistleblower Web sites and suppressed some independent monitoring activities. The founder of the whistleblower Web site "China Justice and Anti-Corruption Net" reported that his site was filtered by China's top search engine, Baidu, and that officials from press and government agencies pressured him to remove a post about alleged forced evictions (Radio Free Asia, 11 January 11). In early June, new sites based on "confess-a-bribe" Web sites in India began to appear in China (Reuters, 13 June 11), but by mid-June, authorities began blocking access to the sites and warning webmasters to close the sites (Associated Press via Center for Intl. Media Assistance, 22 June 11). The sites, some receiving tens to hundreds of thousands of hits, are likely considered illegal because they are unregistered, and at least two have been targets of cyber attacks (China Times News Group, 18 June 11). Other cases where officials displayed intolerance for independent corruption monitoring and reporting include:

  • In July 2011, court officials in Tengzhou city, Shandong province rejected an appeal by journalist Qi Chonghuai, known for his official corruption exposés and who had already completed four years in prison on charges of extortion and blackmail following posting stories online about the alleged corrupt practices of municipal government officials (Human Rights in China, 28 July 11). The Tengzhou city Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to eight additional years on the charge of embezzlement, according to the July 28 HRIC press release.
  • Authorities in Shenzhen city, Guangdong province continue to harass anti-corruption advocate Guo Yongfeng, who officials released from a reeducation through labor facility in August 2011, after he had served 1 year and 9 months. Officials sentenced Guo with "obstructing public affairs," likely in relation to Guo’s alleged involvement in organizing petitions calling for an end to corruption and his role in establishing an unregistered citizens’ group called Citizens' Association for Government Oversight, which sought to monitor alleged official corruption. (Deutsche Welle, 5 September 11 and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, 29 January 09, via Boxun).

Recent Anti-Corruption Efforts and Growing Official Corruption Levels
In the effort to address corruption, Wen Jiabao outlined specific anti-corruption priorities for 2011 in his speech at a "clean government work" conference in March 2011 (Xinhua, 5 April 11). In addition, central officials issued numerous provisions, regulations, and guidelines during 2010 and 2011 (People's Daily, index, accessed 7 August 11). Select anti-corruption measures are listed below:

  • Provision Regarding Implementation of the Responsibility System for Construction of an Honest Party and a Clean Government (2010) (Chinese Text), which is a general provision to promote official accountability.
  • The Supreme People's Court reportedly issued three new regulations to address corruption in the judicial system (China Daily, 9 February 11).
  • "Three Public Expenses" policy, which requires government departments to make public their expenditures on overseas trips, public relations activities, and vehicles (Xinhua, 7 April 11 and People's Daily Foreign Edition, via Legal Daily, 7 April 11).
  • Regulation on Economic Responsibility Audits for Chief Leading Cadres of the Party and the Government and Executives of State-Owned Enterprises, which seeks to reduce corruption by improving the management and supervision of Party, government, and state-owned enterprises' finances and investments. (Xinhua, 8 December 10). Authorities will reportedly use the results of audits in decisions about official appointments and removals (People's Daily, 9 December 10).

Despite new regulatory efforts, corruption in China appears to be rising. In 2010, state corruption investigations of individual government officials rose by 6.1 percent to 44,085 cases from the previous year. (People's Daily, 20 March 11). In 2011, the media highlighted a number of high-profile cases of corruption and graft, including Xu Zongheng, the former mayor of Shenzhen city, Guangdong province, who between 2001 and 2009 reportedly took 33.18 million yuan (US$5.19 million) in bribes, and former vice-mayor of Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, Xu Maiyong, who was accused of accepting a total of 160 million yuan (US$25.03 million) in bribes between 1995 and 2009 (Caixin, 10 May 11 and SCMP, 2 May 11—“Just the Tip of an Iceberg for Official Graft”—and 28 March 11—“The Worst System Corrupts its Best Officials”— subscription required). In its 2010 Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International gave China a score of 3.5 down from a score of 3.6 in 2009 (on a scale for which 10 signifies "highly clean"). The index reflects the results of the organization’s complex measurement of the perceived levels of corruption in the public sector (Transparency International, 2010 and 2009).

For additional analysis of anti-corruption measures last year and in previous years, see previous CECC analyses (5 November 10 and 4 January 07). For more information on issues of corruption and Party and government transparency see the CECC 2011 Annual Report (pp. 166-167), the 2010 Annual Report (pp. 171-176), and the 2009 Annual Report (pp. 212-214).