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Lack of transparency

Matthias von Hein / gdJanuary 30, 2014

China's leadership has declared war on corruption. But asking questions on issues such as politicians' fortunes leads to imprisonment and banishment. That does not fit together, says Matthias von Hein.

Wen Jiabao, China's Prime Minister
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo - Ausschnitt

President Xi Jinping is leading a campaign against the deeply pervasive corruption in his country. The catchphrase has been that "tigers and flies" will be subject to the rule of law, referring to both high and low ranking officials. But, at the same time, activists are being imprisoned for demanding officials to publicly disclose the details of their assets. Most recently, on January 26, a Beijing court condemned prominent lawyer and anti-graft activist Xu Zhiyongto four years in prison on charges of disrupting public order.

The situation has also become increasingly difficult for western journalists working in mainland China. They are being punished for trying to shed some light on the wealth controlled by senior officials and their family members.

After more than six years in China, "The New York Times" reporter Austin Ramzy had to leave China on Thursday, January 30. He was the third journalist working for the US paper to have been denied a visa in the past 18 months. It appears that the authorities want to punish the prestigious newspaper for its coverage on the alleged assets of former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his family members. In 2012, the media outlet published detailed accounts of Wen's and his family's wealth, reportedly amounting to around 2.7 billion USD.

Deutsche Welle Chinesische Redaktion Matthias von Hein
China's anti-graft campaign lacks transparency, says DW's Matthias von HeinImage: DW

That same year, another news provider Bloomberg reported the extended family of current President Xi Jinping has investments worth 376 million USD. A hefty sum - especially for the family of a person, who in 2004 anti-graft conference warned officials: "Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain."

Furthermore, the report from the so-called "offshore leaks" in recent weeks also uncovered the hidden capital movements from China into tax havens. The report alleges that the Chinese elite has transferred huge chunks of their fortunes to tax haves based in the Caribbean. Journalist were able to link more than 20,000 offshore companies were to clients from China and Hong Kong.

Some prominent names featured in the documents include those of President Xi's brother-in-law, the daughter and son of ex-premier Wen Jiabao as well as numerous relatives of former prime ministers and presidents. Information pertaining to these leaks has been blocked immediately in Mainland China.

Xi Jinping is not the first president and Communist Party chief to stylize the fight against corruption as crucial for the survival of the party's hold onto power in China. His predecessors have done the same. However, Xi's anti-corruption campaign has also targeted high-ranking officials in the party such as former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who was a member of Communist Party politburo's standing committee.

But the action against journalists and media coupled with prison sentences for activists indicate that Xi uses the fight against corruption as a means to keep his opponents within the party at bay.