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Photo Credit: The 7 Day Travel 

Since coming to power in November 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it his mission to further legitimize the authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In an effort to do so, Xi and his administration, have embarked on an unprecedented and far-reaching campaign against corruption. Ever since economic reforms began in 1978, political corruption in China has grown significantly, as bribery, graft and kickbacks have become the norm across the state. This increase in corruption led President Xi to vow to crackdown on “tigers” (powerful leaders) and “flies” (lowly bureaucrats) in a full-scale effort to reform the Communist Party and its image among the population.

On the surface, this anti-corruption campaign looks like a positive step towards ultimately ridding corruption from the public sector, however a more in-depth look at Xi’s ambitious initiative may reveal a different motive.

It is no secret that the Chinese public are more than frustrated with the blatant corruption that has imbedded itself into the Chinese economic system and as a result Xi’s campaign has enjoyed immense popularity. However, within the Chinese legal community and the Communist Party itself, the perception of the campaign is a bit more nuanced. According to many in the legal community, the campaign is considered to be a larger strategy to reform the political culture of the Communist Party. With a party of nearly 90 million members, maintaining complete authority over all its members is a monumental task.

The CCP’s role is to issue laws and formulate specific policies objectives from the center, but given the size of the country and diversity of its regions, factionalism has become common among officials at all levels. Xi’s campaign seems to be similarly focused on breaking up the factionalism, as corruption is a “rallying cry” to arrest officials without legal due process. To some, the campaign is more of a purge than a legitimate fight against misuse of public office.

Xi’s campaign appears to be more interested in reforming the people who make up the state than the structure of the state itself. Instead of working to strengthen accountability through institutional reforms, this campaign may lead to a change in party officials – at least those who aren’t willing to tow the party line.

As long as an independent judiciary and a free press remain absent, corruption will fester, even if it changes its form. For now, the business community including business associations and small and medium enterprises must be ready to adapt to new systems of bribery, as local officials demonstrate their loyalty to the CCP and lining their own pockets.

Amol is a Program Assistant for Global Programs at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)