SHANGHAI—The rising number of tips from the Chinese public alleging official malfeasance highlights the popularity of the country’s anticorruption campaign, even as the leadership may be shifting gears on the crackdown.
Almost daily, the Communist Party’s antigraft body publishes data that show the number of officials investigated and punished is rising, including the detention of 19 top executives from state-run companies between March and April. Less noticed is the flood of new allegations that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection says it is receiving from members of the public.
The commission reported, for example, that it received 6,000 “public complaints regarding officials in the resource-rich western province Xinjiang during the first quarter, 25% more than in the same period last year. Figures reported by the commission’s branches in a number of smaller locations make similar claims.
“This reflects a very strong support among the people for what (President) Xi Jinping is doing. We are seeing an increase in participation that we haven’t seen before,” said Huang Jing, a professor at the National University of Singapore.
The public’s interest in the crackdown has buoyed Mr. Xi, who has used the campaign to help build an image as the country’s strongest leader in a generation. The crackdown’s popularity derives in part from Mr. Xi’s willingness to punish politicians thought to be untouchable, known in the parlance of the campaign as “tigers.”Xinhua News Agency said more than 100 such tigers have been investigated since the campaign started about two years ago.
But after a flurry of stunning political falls over the past two years, a lull in announcing high-level targets has fueled speculation that the campaign may be changing tack.
The most visible aspect of the government’s tiger hunt this year has been the prosecution of officials detained last year or earlier on suspicion of corruption. Former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, for example, was formally charged with bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets in early April, but hasn’t been scheduled to stand trial. Recent investigations have focused on local leaders and corrupt officials who absconded abroad.
The country’s top graft buster, Wang Qishan, has suggested the campaign faces internal party resistance, comparing his work to doing surgery on himself to remove his gallbladder, according to a U.S. academic who recently met him but asked not to be named.
Still, officials are sensitive to the fact that big targets haven’t fallen at the same rate this year as in the earlier phase of the campaign.
Waiting for tigers misses the point, the party’s newspaper People’s Daily admonished on May 21. Big-name prosecutions are useful as “shock and awe” tactics, it wrote in an online commentary, but the long-term battle “deserves far more reflection than ‘Who will be the next big tiger?’”
‘This reflects a very strong support among the people for what (President) Xi Jinping is doing. We are seeing an increase in participation that we haven’t seen before’
Mr. Huang in Singapore said he expects at least one additional tiger to fall this year. Still, he said, it makes sense for China’s president to select targets more carefully now, as he needs to rally support for his nominees to the ruling Politburo Standing Committee at the next planned leadership transition in 2017. “Like all major battles, you can’t do it in a hurry,” Mr. Huang said.
The antigraft body’s website shows leads alleging official corruption are coming from various parts of the country: investigators in the southern city of Zunyi, for example, recorded 6,200 tips last year—a 50% rise from the year before—and more than 1,800 in early 2015. For the whole province, Guizhou, the number of leads rose 21% in the first two months of this year.
In the inland city of Chengdu, the nearly 9,800 cases registered in 2014 alleged bribery, no-bid contracts and misuse of official vehicles. Investigators received 64,000 tips during 2014 in Guangdong Province, which borders Hong Kong.
“Most anticorruption cases come from anonymous tips,” said Jorgen Delman, a China specialist at the University of Copenhagen. “They have also created expectations that when (individuals) say something, that will be dealt with and get some kind of results.”
The tips appear to reflect the success of new, well-publicized whistleblower hotlines and websites. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection doesn’t publish a national tally on leads that its offices receive in person, by mail, telephone and online, but says all get reviewed. Nor does it release the content of the filings. The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The most senior officials to fall under suspicion this year include two who the party commission announced in early January were being investigated— Ma Jian, vice minister for state security, and the former party chief of the eastern city Nanjing, Yang Weize. The general managers of China’s two biggest oil companies and a clutch of senior military officers have also been detained.
None, including former senior leader Mr. Zhou, has been reachable or made a comment directly or through a lawyer. Nor have any appeared in a Chinese court.
Famous names add credibility to the party’s anticorruption pledges, Mr. Delman in Copenhagen said, though he said he figured that prosecution of lower-level officials—referred to as “flies”—may telegraph the seriousness of the campaign more directly to ordinary citizens. “If they see a local big guy being taken down, that would make a lot more sense to them,” Mr. Delman said.