Lecture Evaluates Effects of China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign
Dr. Cynthia Watson
Regardless of whether the real goal of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is to benefit himself and strengthen the Communist Party of China — instead of cleaning up government bribery and corruption — the movement has reached further than any other in modern history, according to a China expert.
Dr. Cynthia Watson, professor of national security strategy at the National War College in Washington, D.C., and Oliver “Buck” Revell, founder and president of Revell Group International, a global business and security consulting firm based in Rowlett, recently spoke to an audience of about 100 at the UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management. The school’s Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance and Norton Rose Fulbright co-sponsored the program, “China: An Executive Briefing for Uncertain Times.”
An expert on virtually all aspects of China from economics to geopolitics, Watson has written about China’s military sales to South American nations and various relations between Taiwan and China.
Sitting at the forefront of the country’s most ambitious economic and social reform plan in decades, Xi has made remarkable strides, Watson told the audience of board members, senior executives and attorneys. However, the road to shaping a new era in China’s politics, economy and foreign policy will continue to be challenging and may take many years to achieve, she said.
“There is no question that what Xi Jinping is doing is an anti-corruption platform and therefore allowing China to reform,” Watson said. “The problem is that reform in China is going to be extraordinarily difficult. It always has been. I don’t know any country that voluntarily wants to reform anything.”
She said some of the difficulties include the fact that China is so large, its problems are profound and the Communist Party is “so deeply enmeshed in all of it.”
Xi’s overriding aim is to keep the Communist Party in power, Watson said. He stresses a zero tolerance for graft because it is believed that corruption threatens “the survival of the party or nation,” she said.
“That’s what this is all about, and there is a deep-seated, growing sense in China that the corruption, that the old ideas, that the lack of any sort of individual leadership as China has become somewhat more decentralized is leading to potential problems down the line,” she said.
'The Mountains are High and the Emperor Is Far Away'
Watson said one of the challenges policymakers face is enforcing laws in the world’s most populous country, which has about 1.5 billion people.
“The Chinese have a phrase they have used historically, and that is, ‘The mountains are high and the emperor is far away,’” Watson said. “The reality is it’s a big country where the central government can make lots of statements, but it can’t necessarily enforce them out in the provinces. Therein lies a major problem that Xi Jinping and every predecessor and I predict every successor will confront.”
“The problem is that reform in China is going to be extraordinarily difficult. It always has been. I don’t know any country that voluntarily wants to reform anything.”
During a question-and-answer session, conversation quickly turned to China’s economic slowdown, which has triggered turmoil in the world’s stock and commodities markets. Currently, China’s policymakers are trying to manage the country’s transition from an economy driven by exports and investment to one where domestic consumption plays a greater role. Asked if she believes China will be able to make the transition to a consumer economy, Watson said it may not be easy because there are some cultural reasons why China tends to be a country of savers, but she believes it will get there.
Revell discussed corporate espionage and U.S. Department of State efforts to monitor it. He also talked about the pitfalls of trying to do business in a country where the economy is slowing and there's great uncertainty for even state-owned enterprises.
“I think China is going to be a very interesting issue for us for generations to come,” Revell said, noting that the United States has paid a lot of attention to the Russians, with the Chinese as an afterthought. “I think in the next century, they’re going to be our primary concern. The Chinese are still going forward, even though they’ve got significant problems, and we better come to understand how to deal with them.”
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