In a controversial move, China has just approved a new law extending the powers of the Communist Party’s internal anti-corruption watchdog to cover millions more people.
Will China’s new anti-graft watchdog save the nation – or doom it?
The law empowers the newly established National Supervisory Commission, as well as its local branches, to oversee a vast number of public sector managers, even if they are not party members.
These include the management of state-run:
- Sports organizations
Here’s what you need to know.
What is China’s fight against corruption?
Calling corruption the greatest threat to the Communist regime, President Xi Jinping launched a sweeping anti-graft campaign after he came to power in 2012.
The party’s powerful graft-buster, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), has since punished 1.5 million cadres, including dozens of senior officials.
The drive has received popular support in a society long plagued by corruption.
But critics say Xi is also using the campaign to bring down political enemies and enforce loyalty.
China still ranks 77th out of 180 countries in the 2017 Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, lagging behind Singapore (6th), the US (16th) and Tunisia (74th).
How is the new system different from the old one?
The anti-corruption system 2.0 has much greater authority.
The newly established National Supervisory Commission merges the powers of the CCDI and several state anti-graft arms.
The party’s graft watchdog, which still exists, only has power over China’s 89 million Communist Party members.
But the supervisory commissions oversee all civil servants, in addition to employees at public hospitals, schools, sports groups and state-owned enterprises.
Cheng Chen, a political scientist at the University at Albany, says the impact of the new system will be far-reaching, given the vast numbers of workers in the public sector.
“There is likely to be a heightened sense of anxiety among society, especially in the private and business sectors, now that the ‘rules of the game’ are changing,” she says.
Why did Beijing introduce the supervisory system?
The Communist Party says that it needs a centralized body to carry out the anti-corruption drive in a more effective and accountable fashion.
In the past, the party’s graft investigators sometimes operated outside the law to lock up suspects, question them and extract confessions.
The new supervisory law, approved by the parliament on Tuesday, brings such investigations into China’s legal system.
“It is the most clear sign so far that the Communist regime is determined to institutionalize Xi's anti-corruption campaign,” Chen says.
What’s controversial about this system?
The legislation has prompted concerns that the supervisory commissions – which are independent from the judiciary as well as subordinate to the Communist Party – will serve as a powerful weapon to weed out opposition.
Human rights advocates say the law also risks encouraging the rights abuses, such as torture and enforced confessions, that were common in the old system.
According to the supervision law, graft inspectors can detain suspects for up to six months without permission from prosecutors or judges.
The law also fails to ensure that suspects have access to counsel, which is a right provided under China’s Criminal Procedure Law.
The government has said it will later revise the criminal law to accommodate the new supervisory system.