Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

China, US still facing uphill battles in fighting corruption

By Chen Weihua in Washington Updated: 2015-09-21 05:48

Corruption has long been a top concern among the Chinese, which may well explain why the strong anti-corruption campaign led by President Xi Jinping is gaining growing support among the people.

A Pew Research Center survey released last November found that 54 percent of Chinese called corruption a “very big problem” for their country. The median for emerging and developing countries in Asia and the world are respectively 72 percent and 76 percent.

However, a Gallup poll released on Saturday showed that three in four Americans perceived corruption as widespread in the US government. That percentage is up from 67 percent in 2007 and 66 percent in 2009.

While the poll did not specify it, money in politics has been a chief concern among the American public, according to various recent polls. A June New York Times/CBS poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe fundamental changes are needed to the campaign finance system, while a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that money in politics is a top concern for voters ahead of the 2016 race.

China, US still facing uphill battles in fighting corruption

The 2016 presidential campaign, which is still in its early stages, has been proof of that concern, with huge amounts of money being raised for the candidates’ campaigns and super PACs. The so-called Super PACs, also known as independent expenditure-only committees, may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, often being spent on nasty political attack ads.

According to the Federal Election Commission, as of July 31, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had raised a total of $120 million, followed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s $67.8 million, and Senator Ted Cruz’s 52.5 million. And those numbers are growing by the day.

Even President Barack Obama, who raised more than $1 billion in his 2012 election campaign, has complained repeatedly about money in politics and suggested a mandatory voting system in May.

While major donors use their money to buy influence through candidates, big money has also been spent in the lobbying industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, total spending on lobbying reached $3.24 billion in 2014.

It would be hard for anyone riding the Washington Metro Red Line during morning rush and not notice the flood of people getting off at Farragut North station, just next to legendary K Street, NW, which is lined with the world’s top lobbying firms.

Former senior government officials and lawmakers are sought after by the lobbying industry through the so-called “revolving door”.

The Center for Responsive Politics found that of the 75 lawmakers who exited the 113th Congress after last November’s midterm election, 42 have found new jobs. And 45.2 percent of the 42 are working for lobbying firms, and another 19 percent are hired by lobbying clients.

Many Chinese are quite surprised that such campaign finance practice and lobbying are even legal in a country which claims to champion democracy and clean politics.

In China, official corruption has largely appeared in the form of officials taking bribes or abusing their power to benefit themselves and their family members.

In fact, many of these corrupt officials and business people have fled the country to seek safe haven in Western countries, in particular the US, Canada and Australia, where extradition sought by the Chinese government has often been difficult due to a lack of bilateral extradition treaties.

But last week’s repatriation from the US of Yang Jinjun, who was on China’s most wanted economic fugitive list, has sent a clear signal that China and US are cooperating in fighting corruption. Yang had been on the run for 14 years.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei last Friday expressed China’s appreciation for the US’ cooperation.

Yet, Yang, charged with corruption and bribery, is only the first of 100 people on the so-called “red notice” list the Chinese government said it hopes to be repatriate from the US to China since the country’s “Sky Net” anti-graft operation was launched in April of this year.

China and the US vowed to step up cooperation in fighting corruption at the 7th China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) held in Washington in June, using a variety of mechanisms under multilateral frameworks of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the G20 and APEC and the bilateral China-US Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation’s Working Group on Anti-Corruption.

There is no doubt President Xi and President Obama will have a long list of issues to discuss when they meet in the White House later this week to further expand cooperation and effectively manage differences between the two countries, but fighting corruption has clearly become a concern for both Chinese and Americans.

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