Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive is one of the primary ways the leader is working to consolidate power beneath him. According to Stratfor's 2017 Third Quarter Forecast, as the Communist Party congress approaches it will present both opportunities and threats to the president. After all, the meeting will bring reshuffles throughout the ruling party. And as the window closes for China's deeply intertwined political networks to cement their positions and to defend themselves from an ongoing crackdown on corruption, intraparty competition will intensify.
China may soon restructure its main anti-corruption body, perhaps as early as next month's party congress. According to sources, The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) reportedly would become more of a stand-alone law enforcement agency to encourage greater cooperation with international law enforcement. Beijing, after all, is widening its anti-corruption campaign to include corrupt officials who have fled overseas, which would require assistance. Under this campaign, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt and later Operation Skynet, 2,566 fugitives from 90 countries were netted between 2014 and 2016. So far, some $163 million has been recovered. And Beijing has sought to ramp up its anti-corruption campaign while working with foreign governments and institutions such as Interpol to facilitate the process. But the campaign has slowed, in part because of the reluctance international police have with working with the CCDI, which is considered too close to the Party. In this context, the likely outcome of the CCDI restructure will be a more institutionalized anti-corruption body, or at least one with an independent law enforcement mechanism.
While the CCDI is theoretically independent from the Party's executive institutions, they still largely designate its function and work. To appease growing public resentment over rampant corruption among public officials, the government even empowered the commission over the past decade. Moreover, the CCDI chief has been a customary member of the Politburo Standing Committee since 1997, with the prominence of the position elevated further under Chinese President Xi Jinping's sweeping anti-corruption campaign over the past five years.
Still, the lack of a legitimate law enforcement mechanism has created several challenges for the bureau, as well as the legitimacy of the anti-corruption campaign. For over 20 years, the CCDI has vacillated between having too little power, lacking the necessary authority to undertake anti-corruption practices, to having too much power that can meddle with China's legal system. Those issues only become more apparent as the bureau's power has expanded.
For example, in executing its inspection and enforcement role in the anti-corruption campaign, the CCDI operated throughout the Party's and state's institutions. Supervising the commission's 500,000-plus corruption investigators became a serious problem, especially when it was repeatedly revealed that local investigators were corrupt themselves, undermining the reputation of the CCDI in the process. Numerous attempts to make the commission more independent — with past efforts focused on separating the commission's operation from the Party — have failed. The commission's unlawful enforcement mechanisms in the past and strong affiliation to the Party have hurt its legitimacy, too, limiting the scope of cooperation Beijing had sought for its overseas probes.
Until now, there's been little information on how the restructure would take place. But internal and external pressure on Beijing's anti-corruption campaign is too important to ignore, compelling the Party to further separate its law enforcement bodies from the Party's apparatus by whatever means necessary. In fact, Beijing had in recent years tried to do just that. The Party tried to establish a dual-leadership system of the body between the Party and the state. It also thought to introduce regulators outside of the CCDI. Alternatively, it mulled over the creation of a "national supervisory commission" that would, in theory, integrate the CCDI's original supervisory body with those from other Party and state institutions under the state's authority, to be inaugurated during the government's annual parliamentary sessions in March 2018. Now, the independent law enforcement mechanism for the CCDI is the latest proposal to be considered.
Xi approaches his second term having nearly completed his push to consolidate power. Consequently, many have speculated that his signature anti-corruption campaign — sometimes perceived as his personal political purge — will eventually fade. Such speculation is further fueled by the lingering questions about anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan's political career after the Communist Party Congress. At least for now, the Party still intends to crack down on corruption and restore the Party's image. But the next, more challenging phase of the anti-corruption campaign will be its enforcement, and the Party's ability to sustain it in the face of ongoing resistance from within.