by Lisa Peryman

Until no one dares

China expands its corruption crackdown beyond public sector “tigers” and “flies” to include private sector executives and even university officials.

President Xi’s graft sweep, once the bane of only public officials, has shifted to include leaders at all levels of Chinese society.

With the brief disappearances and reappearances of billionaire bigwigs such as Guo Guangchang (described as China’s Warren Buffett) and Zhou Chengjian (a self-made fashion tycoon) — both believed to have drawn the attention of Xi’s corruption probe in recent months — private companies are also on high alert.

A driver of economic growth and, for that reason, considered untouchable, Xi’s focus on business has overturned that assumption and increased the risk of investing in China’s private enterprises, the Nikkei Asian Review reports. [See: Beijing takes its corruption crackdown into new territory]

Although arresting corruption should normally reduce private investment risk, in the absence of rule of law, the opposite is true, says Probe International’s Patricia Adams, a leading expert on China. “Indeed, corruption allegations become a tool in China and the truth will never come to light because investigations and court proceedings are controlled by the Communist Party in order to reinforce Party control, not the truth,” she says.

Soon after taking power in late 2012, Xi warned rampant corruption threatened the Party’s legitimacy at a time when the country was facing an economic and social crossroads and pledged every effort to stamp out its menace. At a Party meeting in January, Xi reinforced that message to officials: no corner of society was immune.

While the list of Chinese entrepreneurs who have suddenly gone missing grows, the upper echelons of education and science increasingly find themselves in the hot seat as China moves to ramp up its global academic standing amid claims of fraud in Chinese research and credentials. Although misuse of education and research funds is believed to be a widespread problem, cracking down on academia — including opinions and changes to curriculum — is also aimed at thwarting unrest (pro-democracy momentum and other destabilizing social movements) as well as corruption. Reports Nikkei Asisan Review:

The surveillance team at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection decided to monitor Peking University, the nation’s most prestigious educational institution, for possible abuses starting this spring. This followed instructions in January by a commission official to strengthen monitoring at universities to make sure teaching staff are not spreading inappropriate opinions and views.

The chill effect across the country’s campuses has resulted in a spike in the number of students leaving China, which climbed 11 percent in 2014 when Xi’s anti-corruption drive intensified, while the number of returning students rose by only 3 percent that year, reports NAR. The cost of this potential brain drain could ultimately stymie Beijing’s economic ambitions, of which innovation in research is key to realizing.

One student, speaking to NAR anonymously, said he had opted to study in Hong Kong, although his grades permitted him entry to China’s elite learning institutions.

“I wanted freedom,” he told NAR, adding that he did not want to live in a system where students were monitored by “attendant officers” who reported back to the Communist Party.

 

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