One of the most fashionable arguments employed by apologists for the Chinese government is that yes, corruption thrives at the local level, but a concerned and squeaky-clean central government has little control over it, though it does all it can to contain it. This was a central argument made by some who argued the detention of Chen Guangcheng was the result of “a single local official” and the central government couldn’t be blamed for it. I wrote about one such pundit who made the “one local official” argument: “Think about that. The CCP can be off the hook for anything that doesn’t happen within walking distance of the Great Hall of the People.”
In the wake of the Bo Xilai catastrophe, the Financial Times today directly questions this argument about good central government, bad local officials, and concludes that it’s nonsense. Which, of course, it is.
From revelations of massive corruption to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by Mr Bo’s wife Gu Kailai, the sordid affair has shown the Chinese people and the world that the rot goes right to the top.
For the last three decades, the party has carefully cultivated the perception that, while there may be corruption and wrongdoing at lower levels, the system is governed by clean and selfless elites who live only to serve the masses.
China’s spectacular rise and its success in lifting hundreds of millions out of abject poverty combined with the intense secrecy surrounding senior officials have convinced many to accept this vision of a just and benevolent emperor calling the shots from Beijing….
When historians look back on the Bo Xilai scandal they will almost certainly identify this as the moment when China’s vicious backroom political battles spilled into the open and the myth of the good emperor was shattered.
Far from revealing authoritarian China’s meritocracy and ability to self-correct, the Bo Xilai saga underscores how its leaders believe they are above the law and how little accountability there actually is.
This is an argument I’ve been making for years. No, the central government isn’t only corrupt. They have done some great things, initiated some wonderful programs, demonstrated solid and meaningful successes, and 80 percent of those polled in a 2008 Pew Research poll believe they are on the right track. However…. (more…)