Wednesday August 12, 2020


Mayflower Renaissance Hotel, Washington, DC

March 10, 2015

On Tuesday, the USCPF hosted a panel discussion event titled, “Tigers and Flies: Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign.” The event was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC and was attended by interested parties from the metro area including students, scholars, government officials, and other professionals. Five scholars were invited to discuss their own perspectives on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s attempts to combat corruption in the government based on their various backgrounds and research.

After a brief reception, panel moderator Dr. David M. Lampton brought the group together by introducing the members of the panel and the topic itself. Corruption is an ongoing issue in the Chinese government that has existed, to quote panelist Dr. Bruce Dickson, “throughout the post-Mao period.” In recent years, however, corruption has received much media attention both in China and abroad as Chinese president Xi Jinping campaigns to weed out both the corrupt “tigers” and “flies” in the government – that is, both high-level officials and low-level ones. Dr. Lampton summarized the topic at hand before providing the panelists with some relevant questions to addressed if they so desired, including “How will we know success when we see it?” and “What are some downsides of the campaign?”

Christopher K. Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) started the panelist responses by addressing the how and why behind President Xi’s campaign. He noted that although the high-level “tigers” that Xi has targeted have mostly been victims of power plays and political maneuvering, removing low-level “flies” from office has genuinely been an attempt to clean up the reputation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and to promote effective governance at the local level.

Dr. Yukon Huang of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace picked up the conversation from there, making China’s economy accessible for the average listener. Dr. Huang explained that corruption, from an economist’s perspective, is “the use of public office for personal gain” and that thus far, being corrupt is a “low-risk, high-payoff” occupation.  Has China grown because of corruption or in spite of it? He further elaborated on the economic aspects of corruption and the relation between corruption and the “inputs of production:” land, energy, capital, and labor. He concluded that government and economic reforms and anti-corruption reforms are therefore interlinked.

The conversation then moved to public perception of corruption, with Dr. Bruce Dickson of the George Washington University citing statistics from his own ongoing research demonstrating both the Chinese people’s dissatisfaction with corruption local officials as well as their perception that Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is having a positive effect. Dr. Dickson cautioned, however, that despite the public’s approval of the campaign there is the potential for Xi’s efforts to backfire. The more Xi targets corruption, the more the average Chinese citizen becomes aware of just how widespread that corruption really is, leading to a decrease in their faith in the CCP’s ability to govern.

Dr. Sasha Gong of Voice of America concluded the initial panelist statements by explaining that there are multiple ways of considering corruption and the media, including corrupt media officials and media reports on corruption. Dr. Gong explained that beyond the CCP’s control over the media, money is another key factor in deciding which news reports will be made public and whether those reports will be positive or negative. She also described the well-known linkages between reporters and government officials. Her statement ended on a high note, though, as she talked about the rise of “self-media” – internet blogs, social media, etc. – and their new role as watchdogs, investigators, and reporters of “real” news.

Dr. Lampton then opened the discussion up to questions from the audience, which led to many new insights from the panelists. For instance, Dr. Huang commented on what effect the anti-corruption campaign might have on the Chinese economy and money flows in and out of the country. Mr. Johnson explained the ways in which the anti-corruption campaign is hitting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) differently, focusing on the way that the PLA is not a national military but the armed wing of the CCP. Dr. Gong reminded us that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that the CCP has absolute power within China.  Finally, all of the panelists agreed that while the campaign certainly puts President Xi in a precarious position, they don’t see the CCP falling from power anytime in the near future, with Dr. Dickson adding that, “the Party has been more adaptable than people give it credit for.”

The USCPF was glad to host such an informative event with such great insights from well-respected China experts. We would like to thank all the participants as well as the guests for attending and making the panel discussion a success.

Links to More Information

Event Program

Panel Speakers (video)

Media Links