【明報專訊】SOME TIME AGO, four senior executives of the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) got caught up one after another in an anti-corruption probe, which caused quite a stir in governmental, commercial, and political circles. Now that even Jiang Jiemin, director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) and formerly chairman of the CNPC group, is "suspected of serious disciplinary violations" and placed under investigation, it is clear the central government is firmly committed to the battle against corruption, for the CNPC is one of those giant state-owned enterprises whose top executives have powerful connections.
Jiang Jiemin, for instance, worked in the oil system for more than a quarter of a century, and for a long time was associated with two former Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee members, Zeng Qinghong and Zhou Yongkang. Before becoming director of the SASAC in March this year, he was the de facto chief of the "oil clique". He was even made a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the party's 18th National Congress. When someone with such a background and such important government or commercial positions gets into trouble, we see a message that means much more than the corruption they have got involved in.
Xi Jinping had no sooner been elected to the post of General Secretary by the party's 18th National Congress than he declared war on corruption. Shortly afterwards, following in the footsteps of Deng Xiaoping, who made a tour of South China in 1992 calling for reform, Xi took a trip to Guangdong. Anti-corruption and reform may therefore be regarded as the two main themes of his administration.
As is well known, more than 30 years' reform and opening up has given rise to a multitude of giant state-owned enterprises. These enterprises have become vested interest groups which, concerned only with their own interests, are opposed to further reform. Will China duplicate what has happened in Russia, where a handful of people fill their own pockets with state-owned assets? This is no longer a purely hypothetical question.
With the development of the economy over the past many years, the CNPC has developed into a giant state-owned enterprise that controls the supply of oil in China. The oil industry is as full of problems as a hedgehog is of prickles, and Jiang and others in the top management have also attracted lots of negative publicity.
While it is official corruption that has triggered the CNPC shakeup, the many problems underlying the oil industry have served as a hotbed for corruption. The industry will not see a new phase of development unless the central government scales up its anti-corruption work.
The third plenary session of the 11th CCP Central Committee held 35 years ago changed China's destiny by adopting the reform and opening-up policy. The third plenary session of the 18th CCP Central Committee will be held later this year. Over the past 35 years, China has achieved monumental success through reform. But now, because of resistance from vested interest groups, further reform has become quite impossible. Indeed, China's economic system has descended into crony capitalism of the worst type, and it is highly questionable whether the economy can continue to develop.
The ultimate solution to this problem is of course reform of the political system. But if the time is not yet judged ripe for political reform, the central government should, while dealing with corruption cases in state-owned enterprises like the CNPC, avail itself of the opportunity to reform the industries concerned. If the CNPC remains unchanged after the obstacle to reform of the corporation and the industry has been removed, the central government is to blame for not making good use of a good opportunity.