Chinese President Xi Jinping is leading one of the most vigorous campaigns against corruption and dissent since the Mao era. In fact, it appears that his campaign has extended as far as Canada; Beijing is attempting to extradite the Vancouver-based businessman Mo Yeung (Michael) Ching for alleged corrupt business dealings in the mid-1990s. Ching is the son of Cheng Weigao, a senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official who was charged with corruption in 2003. Some view these campaigns as the key to restoring the CCP’s strength and legitimacy. Others predict that they will be destabilizing because of the scale, opaqueness, and intensity—by attacking both “tigers” and “flies” (that is, high- and low-level officials), Xi is striking at the core of the patronage networks that hold the political system together, weakening the party from within. And by tightening the reins on public discourse through an increasingly centralized censorship apparatus, Xi is further diminishing his party’s legitimacy.
Observers in the first camp point out that Xi is China’s strongest ruler since Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s modernization, and precisely the type of leader the country needs to balance competing interests while pushing for tough economic reforms. According to this view, Xi’s corruption crackdown promotes a much-needed no-tolerance culture within a deeply corrupt party—a move that will bolster the CCP’s legitimacy. It also testifies to Xi’s strength and effectiveness. He is able to consolidate power by eliminating enemies and potential contenders and also concentrate institutional power by chairing the “leading small groups” (informal Politburo advisory bodies) that are in charge of formulating key economic, security, and foreign affairs policies.
The second camp believes that Xi’s campaign is widening the cracks in an already fractured regime: slower economic growth, coupled with a high level of social inequality and massive environmental problems, have increased discontent among