Politics of Fear Through Governing Spaces
The Party’s strategy of creating a culture of fear among officials has resulted in a number of officials attempting to flee abroad. A number of officials we interviewed stated:
Officials who know that the CPC is investigating their wrong doings, will be afraid when hearing some bad news related to them or their close allies.
As a result, many officials have tried to flee to foreign countries in order to escape punishment. I think this campaign does have that effect. (Low-level official, General Office in a provincial government)
In this politics of fear, officials’ residences have become a target of surveillance. As one of our participants observed:
It definitely has the deterrent effect, some people at least restrain themselves a lot, at least there were much fewer business people coming to our official compound (local leader residence area) to give gifts during holidays and festivals, there is no one that dares to do it publicly as they did before. They know inspection officials are monitoring our gate. (High-ranking official, provincial government)
The strategy of surveillance of officials’ compounds (i.e., residential compounds of high-ranking officials) is a component of China’s efforts to apprehend fugitive officials suspected of corruption, who attempt to flee overseas in an effort to avoid being arrested for corruption.4 As Xinhua News reports: during the 2014 “Fox Hunt campaign” that was launched by the Ministry of Public Security, there were “680 economic suspects, that is corrupt Party members and government officials, were returned to China.” It is said, “The key goal of the campaign is to squeeze the space for fugitives overseas and deter potential economic criminals.” According to Xinhua News, “the overseas assets of China’s state-owned enterprises were rarely audited and more corrupt officials are joining the transnational economic flux to transfer assets,” therefore the Fox Hunt campaign was introduced to arrest this trend. A disciplinary inspection official said:
We must intensify international efforts in the pursuit of stolen goods, we need the timely analysis of information on those fleeing personnel so to make a breakthrough on major cases; to strengthen the development of laws and regulations, spread a dragnet and to never let the corrupt officials go unpunished.
There are four implications in this discourse that need to be noted: First, the governing space of corruption is extended beyond China’s borders, in an attempt to restrict corrupt officials’ ability to evade justice. This is also for the purpose of eradicating the notion of a “safe haven” for corrupt officials; second, the hunting practice itself is more significant (for the promotion of the culture of fear among officials) than the actual numbers of successfully apprehended officials. According to officials we interviewed, “the number of returnees was only a very small portion of the number of such fugitives”; third, the governing of “naked officials” (i.e., those officials whose relatives are all in foreign countries) in China is linked with the “fox hunting” efforts abroad. According to one of our participants who works in the Disciplinary Department, to “prevent more corruption- driven flights, high-level officials who have sent their families abroad are a special focus of attention.” According to this participant, such “naked” officials are banned from promotion and from “important and sensitive” posts in areas like the military, diplomacy and national security. In this strategy, the private lives of officials are again becoming linked with their public roles as officials. According to a low-level disciplinary official we interviewed:
Naked does not necessarily mean corrupt, but some of them definitely have the tendency to flee ... Regular official supervision and public scrutiny are needed to keep them in check. In December last year, more than 3,200 “naked” officials at county-level or above were identified, among which, some 1,000 held key positions. Those whose family members refused to return were demoted.
This participant also informed us that the mobilizing sources of this effort are framed by “government, Party, law enforcement agencies, the central bank and diplomatic services.” The Party’s overwhelming power of mobilization with regard to anti-corruption actually exposes for examination the inner workings of this campaign. That is, the Party has entered into what seems to be a permanent state of exception, which is becoming all pervasive and has infiltrated many aspects of Chinese life. Traditional festivals have even become the context for tracking officials. According to a number of our participants, for example:
We dispatch many inspection teams during holidays. It is now strictly prohibited to use public funds to buy moon cakes, send gifts, greeting cards and even fireworks to other units and other special purchases for the New Year and Spring Festival. Only focusing on Mid-Autumn Festival or national day, is not enough, discipline officials need to focus on all the holidays. We have a long way to go. (Mid-level, Disciplinary Department)