On February 25, when the Chinese Communist Party revealed its plans for rare constitutional amendments, including the abolishment of presidential term limits, less noticed amid the growing concerns of dictatorship were shifts to further centralize President Xi Jinping’s control over China’s anti-corruption efforts. The crux of the change lies in the creation of a newly consolidated anti-corruption watchdog called the National Supervision Commission (NSC), which will be formally established at the annual National People’s Congress plenary session that opened on March 5.
This new party watchdog is the answer to a long debate in China over the need for a new anti-corruption agency. Key issues included unifying and simplifying the system within a single body, providing additional resources, and reducing manipulation by local officials. The NSC certainly addresses these concerns. But it fails to address one key weakness: who watches the watchdog? Although various models have been proposed to establish a degree of independence and more genuine accountability, the NSC, which came about relatively quickly, offers a wildly different approach: it is a more powerful institution, established in law but not greatly constrained by it, and it will supervise ideological and political discipline as well as corruption. In practice, it is accountable only to itself and the central party leadership. Ostensibly intended to institutionalize anti-corruption work, it will effectively be a tool of—and not a check on—Xi’s centralized power.
DOUBLING DOWN ON DISCIPLINE
The NSC is more an evolution of the system rather than a full-on revolution. It is a practical step forward in Xi’s attempt to centralize authority, to institutionalize anti-corruption, and to discipline officials to attain a better-run party, state, and economy. Its main component is the party’s internal disciplinary watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which was established in 1978 but has roots predating the party’s rise to power in 1949. Although theoretically elected by the party’s five-yearly national congress, the CCDI in practice has always answered to party leadership
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