China acts in superlatives. It has done for thousands of years of history. And some day, the Chinese regime’s ongoing war on corruption may also go down in history as an extreme “made in China.”
No other government in the world right now is undertaking such arduous efforts to tackle insidious corruption. But China has no choice. The country is tearing itself apart.
Hardly a day goes by without a demonstration against a corrupt local official or politician, or the arrest of a leading Communist party member, taken into custody together with their personal pile of riches, cash, jewels and antiques. Devastating scandals shake the nation on an almost daily basis.
This may seem like a China's own domestic problem. But the world's second largest economy has a way of spreading its problems elsewhere.
A chemical plant explodes, blowing the too-close, illegally-built apartment buildings sky high with it. An earthquake tears down buildings which local officials allowed to be built with substandard materials.
Nicknamed the “naked officials,” there are those who have already squirreled their ill-gotten wealth out of the country along with their whole families, like rats leaving a sinking ship.
Meanwhile, the state and party leadership seems to have recognized once and for all that their survival – and ultimately that of the entire country – can only be secured by effectively tackling this corrosive corruption.
This may seem like a China’s own domestic problem. But the world’s second-largest economy has a way of spreading its problems elsewhere.
China rose rapidly from desperate mass impoverishment, still visible everywhere as late as the 1980s, to become an economic superpower second only to the U.S.
Chinese cash reserves have reached dizzying heights and Chinese companies have long been active in all world markets. If these companies don’t purge themselves of systemic corruption, they will spread the same insidious problems visible in their homeland to those countries they operate in, particularly the already unstable ones.
And it would only be a matter of time until German competitors start muttering about how doing business in that country just isn’t possible without the odd bribe.
German companies now doing good business in China also bear grave responsibility, and not only in keeping their noses thoroughly clean. They can also help support Chinese politicians to manage this cultural shift within the framework of collective actions with their business partners and competitors. No one will be able to accuse the Germans of being arrogant taskmasters.
And we aren’t exactly saints.
At the moment, there’s not much we can do when faced with cases of German corruption abroad. It was only in 1999 that the government here got round to banning bribes abroad from counting under a firm’s tax deductible expenses. In the decade that followed, a number of major corruption cases came to light.
But if we take our chance in China to help with an appropriate degree of humility, China could yet accede to the OECD conventions.
It would be a win-win situation. A major victory in the battle against corruption in China, Germany and the world.
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