China is so serious about cracking down on corruption that no one is willing to research it

A corruption crackdown China-style, courtesy of Wang Qishan.
A corruption crackdown China-style, courtesy of Wang Qishan.
Image: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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When China’s new administration, led by president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang, took office in March, it put cracking down on corruption front and center on its policy agenda. The crackdown, kicked off last year, has been so sweeping that sales of Chinese liquor and Swiss watches, popular items used to ply corrupt Chinese officials, have dropped dramatically.

But apparently, cracking down is one thing. Revealing the details of how it’s all going is another. Transparency International had to omit China from its Global Corruption Barometer 2013 report because, as a spokeswoman for the non-governmental organization told China Real Time Report, it couldn’t find anyone in the country willing to research it.

“We approached a number of different local survey companies, but they did not feel that it would be possible to implement a survey of this nature in China without omitting many of the questions,” the Transparency International spokeswoman said.

The market research firms they reached out to said that corruption was “too sensitive to probe in significant depth, given China’s controls on all forms of domestic media,” as CRTR put it. In recent months, the government has detained scores of anti-corruption activists agitating for public disclosure of government officials’ assets.

China’s latest corruption crackdown differs from those in the past, which have often been used as political tools to target factional rivals  (see: Bo Xilai). This time the Xi-Li regime’s efforts, led by Wang Qishan, one of the most reputable members of the State Council Standing Committee, appear to be largely indiscriminate. But in light of Transparency International’s struggle, the question is: How effective can a corruption crackdown be without transparency?