Thursday, April 14, 2016

Panama Papers question China leadership’s legitimacy

After three years of persistently pursuing a rigorous anti-corruption campaign, the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping is now facing a serious credibility crisis.

The administration’s drive to clean up the rot within the government and the Communist Party has won public support because the unusually tough crackdown has led to a slew of arrests and indictments of political heavyweights. Many party bigwigs are still under investigation.

But the so-called Panama Papers, or millions of internal documents about hidden wealth leaked from a Panama-based law firm, have implicated some members of China’s most powerful policy body.

The names mentioned in the leaked documents include the husband of Xi’s elder sister and relatives of Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli, two other members of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee. They were shareholders in companies registered in overseas tax havens, according to information obtained and made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The disclosures raised suspicions that the leaders who have been acting as champions of the anti-corruption crusade are corrupt themselves. The leaked documents have cast serious doubt on the administration’s credibility and moral rectitude.

The Panama Papers also cite five relatives of former Chinese leaders including the husband of Mao Tse-tung’s granddaughter.

Chinese authorities have imposed a strict media blackout to block public access to information concerning the Panama Papers.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has refused to comment on any of the many questions about the topic posed by foreign media.

But the government has been unable to stop the embarrassing facts about top leaders from becoming known widely among the people.

The phrase “husband of an elder sister” has already become fashionable on the Internet.

We have heard a raft of stories about how relatives of Chinese leaders have taken advantage of their positions to win the rights to use state-owned land and made huge profits through real estate investments.

It is unclear whether reported secretive offshore financing is related to such dubious wealth accumulated through abuse of political privileges.

But two things are clear.

One is that people around China’s top leader have amassed amounts of wealth well beyond the imagination of ordinary citizens in the country.

The other is that they have taken the trouble to set up companies in remote offshore tax havens.

Why have they transferred their assets to such companies far away from home? The only plausible explanation is that they were trying to hide their money from Chinese authorities’ oversight.

These leaders deserve to be criticized for putting a higher priority on protecting the profits of their kin than on promoting the nation’s development. That’s at least how Chinese citizens will think about the revelations.

At least three of the seven members of the paramount leadership organ have been implicated.

China lacks a system under which its leaders are chosen through free and fair elections.

If the Communist Party government is to win public support for its rule of the nation, it must ensure that the living standards among the people will keep rising.

If the party’s leaders are working hard to make themselves far richer than citizens, however, the very foundation of the legitimacy of the party’s monopoly on power could be seriously undermined.

The documents that tell sordid stories about relatives of top Chinese leaders are widely available across the world. It is hard to imagine how the Xi administration will be able to get away with this scandal without offering convincing explanations.

--The Asahi Shimbun,


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