Here’s looking at you, Beijing

China's ongoing leadership transition is framed by corruption controversies and the need for political reform

As the 18th Communist Party Congress in China continues, one important issue analysts have discussed is the question of political reform. For instance, there are certain expectations regarding intra-party democracy. The selection of the central committee by delegates at the Congress already has electoral features. The rumours are that, as early as this occasion, party elders might initiate elections, at least for some of the high leadership positions (for example, for one of the seven seats on the standing committee) — which is something unprecedented, and often dubbed unthinkable when discussing Chinese politics. Intra-party democracy, nonetheless, is not seen as a typical "pro-democracy" reform, but as a way to achieve intra-party stability and bring the Communist Party of China's (CPC) seniors closer to its constituency.

The question of self-discipline and self-policing is equally, if not more, important. With no mechanism of checks and balances and no contestants for their power, in the present constellation, good governance practices are solely dependent on the goodwill of CPC leaders and secured by the internal discipline mechanisms of the party. Maintaining the party's "purity" and combating the "plagues" that come with power have been the central tendencies of the CPC for decades. The most burning "plague" of all, of course, has been corruption.

Corruption in China refers to a whole set of practices related to the abuse of power — manifested in, but not limited to, nepotism, clientelism, personal vendettas against opponents undertaken by officials, decadent lifestyles, inappropriate displays of power, sexual harassment and so on. Due to the sheer size of China and the distance of the periphery from the centre, as well as the decentralisation of governance, corruption is more rampant in provincial governments and more sophisticated in Beijing, where the rules are tighter. In the age of social media, however, corruption becomes ever more visible to the eyes of the public and hence, is a more urgent problem to deal with.

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