Saturday, August 14, 2010

Naked Officials

Yes, I know, that is a titillating title bound to increase traffic to my site by people seeking cheap thrills. Unfortunately, they are going to be terribly disappointed to find that this term is not what they think it is - at least in this case.

A "naked official" is clearly defined by the Organization Department of the Central Committee (ODCC) of the CPC as an official whose spouse and children have migrated abroad and have become foreign citizens or taken permanent residence overseas, or who has no spouse but whose children have taken foreign permanent residence permits, or who has no children but whose spouse has become a foreign citizen or taken a foreign permanent residence permit.
Ok, I admit, I have known about this term and its implications for a while but I suspect it is something new to most Western audiences. So I wanted to address it and see if I could point out some of its implications in comparison to the West. In short, the point of this article is to address a concern that is prevalent in China when it comes to its "public servants" - public officials often are guilty of corruption or other crimes and, in order to help protect themselves and their families, will often ensure that they have a way out of the country. There are more than a few examples of this that can be found using Google so I will not belabor the point here.

Now, this does not mean that public officials and corruption are limited only to China. A review any nation's political leaders will turn this up as a trend that seems only to expand to all levels of society. In the past year, British officials have been forced to resign due to taking money from the public treasury for personal use and US officials are currently being investigated by their peers (ok, yes, I admit I found it hilarious that other foxes stand in judgment of the offending foxes) in the House of Representatives. The difference here relates more to the method in which each nation handles the problem and how the offending leaders react to the possibility of being caught. Outside of China, the officials may be censured, lose their jobs and their pensions, be publicly humiliated or suffer similar such punishments. In China, they truly can lose their lives.

It is not my intent to say that one way is right or another wrong. But why are the flagrantly corrupt in China (and to be caught, they tend to have to be flagrant) executed while similar such actions external to China result in non-life-threatening punishments? Accountability seems to be the most likely reason. For example, in the US, the system still works to a large degree since the offenders are simply removed from office via the ballot box (in many cases) and replaced with another crook. Well, ok, maybe I am being pessimistic, but you get my point. People, more or less, still trust the system to police itself and to regenerate in a fashion that is simply not possible in China (or most other authoritarian nations). In China, the system is imposed on the people and the only way to maintain that is to truly threaten the population - to maintain the sense of fear that is very necessary to keep the country relatively stable. Those who know that best are those with the most to lose - the leaders themselves. So, to keep the system running, they enable an "out" for themselves and their families. Then they have a place to go (e.g. the West in many cases) where they may not have the same perks and abilities - but at least they won't be executed. Why? Because they don't trust the very government which they are responsible for running!

One last thought on the subject. Why are the offenders put to death instead of in jail? One good reason (and this would also tie in with why their trials are not generally open to the public) is that they have the ability to bring the entire system down with them. So, to maintain the system, those who are caught must be eliminated because they can name names of the others. The corruption that goes on is clearly not limited to the few individuals that are so foolish as to be caught but is endemic to the system as a whole because there is no real accountability to the people whom they purport to serve. But, in order to maintain that illusion, it seems like a very real possibility that the only solution is to execute the few in order to preserve the rest.

I guess there is no reason to wonder why Western officials do not try to escape to China when they get caught up in their corrupt practices...

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