Harvard’s Vogel: Deng Would Be Delighted

April 30, 2012


Ulam: There was a recent article in Financial Times about Zhou Yongkang, China’s security chief, who has been linked to the Bo Xilai corruption scandal. The Financial Times was asserting that his expansion of the internal security apparatus had set back decades of legal reforms aimed at establishing an independent judiciary. Do you agree with that?

Vogel: No. I think that they’ve been creeping along slowly with judicial reforms. And they still like to keep individual authority.

Ulam: But this idea of independent judiciary is still moving ahead?

Vogel: Very slowly, very slowly. Deng specifically said he didn’t want that. He thought it would divide the authority and he wanted more centralized authority. He thought it would slow things down to have an independent judiciary.

Ulam: Do you think he foresaw a future where there could be an independent judiciary?

Vogel: I think he wanted more regular procedures. And he wanted rules. He was willing to consider those if conditions were ripe. I think on issues like democracy and stronger judiciary, he wasn’t opposed to those. But you had to have the right political conditions. And he didn’t feel that the conditions in his time were ripe for big changes.

Ulam: What’s the potential impact of the Bo Xilai corruption scandal on China’s economy and its political system?

Vogel: I don’t think it’s going to really upset things. They’re getting rid of him now, and what they’re trying to do is find all kinds of dirt … to weaken his appeal. They don’t want to create too much opposition because he was very popular.

The question is whether this effort to deal with his corruption will extend beyond him so that the new leadership will be under more pressure to do more about corruption. My guess is that they will feel that pressure. And there’s a new leadership coming to power after the next party congress that will have to work harder to deal with corruption. And I think that they will attack the issue more forcefully.

Ulam: Just because of this particular case?

Vogel: Not just because of this case. There’s widespread feeling against corruption, particularly in high-level leaders already. I think this perhaps just escalates it a little. It’s a more prominent case than some of the others.

Ulam: Are some sectors of their economy more corrupt than others?

Vogel: Well, construction and land use are particularly corrupt: the sale of land to developers and things that require public permission. Local industry is not necessarily as corrupt as the types of businesses that require permits from the government. All of those things that require government permits are opportunities for an official to have his hand out.



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