Thursday, June 05, 2014

China's Naked Officials


-by Qiao Li

As a young, aspired citizen, I try to fulfill my share of "American dream" by working to become a homeowner in Pasadena, California. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our meager savings limited what we can buy, but what surprised me more was the number of "cash-offer" deals that out-bided us everywhere! How did we get accustomed to cash-only offers? And how could our housing market possibly be affected by corruption in China? The outsourcing of China’s "naked officials" might help to explain why.

"Naked officials" (裸体官员) are Chinese bureaucrats who send their family members overseas with the illegal assets they amassed through corruption and graft. These officials are “naked” as they are the only ones left behind, working hard to accumulate and funnel capitals overseas under the names of their relatives to popular destinations like the U.S., Canada and the U.K, investing their transferred funds in financial, real estate, energy, and other lucrative sectors. Banking on bribes to allow forced demolition, business deals, black jails, and news cover up, these “naked officials” not only use their wealth and power to sideline competing business interests, their immense economic clout obtained through official capacity also allows them to defeat other political factions within the party.

Like the outsourcing of jobs in America, "naked officials" are a growing threat to China’s outsourcing of wealth. According to a 2005 Ministry of Commerce report, between 1978-2003, 4,000 “naked officials” left China with $50 billion. From 2007 to 2012, on average, corrupted officials sent abroad 5 million yuan ($800,460) per person.

Perhaps one of the most famous cases was the fall of politburo member Bo Xilai-- a senior party official sentenced to life in prison for embezzlement and abuse of power. His wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence for poisoning her British business collaborator, Neil Heywood. While in power, the couple owned luxury properties around the world, and their relatives held key positions in several state-owned enterprises. After the tumbling of Bo’s dynasty, many local officials mysteriously committed "suicide." Officially, these victims were reported to have suffered from mental illness or depression, but many speculate that such killings are an act of power struggle. Since the launch of the latest anti-corruption campaign by President Xi Jinping last year, along with the purge of prominent senior officials, such as Bo Xilai and his family, Chinese “naked officials” increasingly find themselves under pressure to relocate their money and family abroad, to places with more stability, cleaner air, better education, and higher quality of life.

China’s blind focus on economic growth as the only form of development produced generations of bureaucrats who are power hungry and money driven; tragically, they ignore the plight of the people, and are unwilling to address the massive and growing wealth inequality within the country. In the age of globalization, nothing is impervious to the destruction brought forth by unregulated Capitalism.

The number of "naked officials" might be a small bunch, but they play an important role in the larger picture of global inequality. Since post-reform, Capitalism has become the new secular religion in China. While the government brutally cracks down on other popular religions and is fast to demolish Christian churches, no officials dare to criticize the wrongs done by unchecked Capitalism. The fleeing of these “naked officials” is a testament that China’s impressive growth will not sustain if inequality left unaddressed, and what it all means for Americans is that we must rethink what is the meaning of development. How can economic development actually harm the most vulnerable? And what kinds of social development are we lacking? Privatizing public goods, cutting public services, and supporting the "race to the bottom" business model will destroy our democracy-- just look at Sheldon Adelson and his casino-backed money from Macao and Singapore that goes to support the Republican Party. We must move away from our existing neoliberal paradigm, and prepare an alternative plan for when the trickle down theory doesn’t work for all. For now, I will have to re-appropriate my “American dream” to fit a less ambitious reality.

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