Preparations are well underway for Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States in late September. The visit is very important in order to both head-off further friction that has developed in China-U.S. relations during the Obama administration and to continue reinforcing China's "new model of great power relations with win-win outcomes" approach to relations with the United States.
While there are a series of key issues that will color the Xi-Obama meeting, one issue that may fly "under the radar," yet be of long-term importance to China-U.S. relations, is the issue of pursuing and extraditing corrupt Chinese officials believed hiding in the United States.
A common theme of Xi's tenure as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) beginning in November 2012 and his current presidency, which began in March 2013, was corruption. Xi held that corruption was eroding the very fabric of Chinese society, threatening both the primacy of the CPC's role as China's governing party and the stability of the nation.
One of the primary reasons for the anti-corruption campaign is to restore the public's faith in the CPC as it prepares to initiate further economic and social reforms. In this respect, the anti-corruption drive was initiated in order to cleanse the Party and to convince the ordinary Chinese citizen that the Party has an interest not just in reforming China but also in reforming itself. The campaign has also had the added benefit of accentuating Xi's point that corruption is a drain on the Chinese economic system. Grasping the politically dangerous issue of corruption is essential for Xi's systematic overhaul of the mechanisms of government that can tackle vested interests and ensure that reforms flow from the center to the localities.
Recently, Xi announced that far from slowing down, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)'s investigations would continue indefinitely, truly attacking the corrupt institutions that are rendering many of China's reforms and policies inefficient.
The anti-corruption campaign is not only about corruption but also about reform. Because reforms must be implemented in a carefully designed manner so that they can take place in a relatively smooth and gradual fashion, anti-corruption efforts had to take place before implementing additional economic, social, governance and political reforms.
Although there seems to be a correlation between China's recent slowdown in economic growth and the anti-corruption campaign, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Some suggest that the anti-corruption campaign should actually be beneficial to China's long-term growth.
A consequence of the anti-corruption campaign is that it has strengthened both Xi and the Party's power. In fact, it reiterates Arthur Kroeber's observation that the CPC is neither weak nor desperate, but forceful and adaptable. This suggests that a Xi-led CPC has confidence in its continued relevance and that it can maintain an acceptable level of economic growth and social stability.
Xi and the CPC's leadership want the Party to become more of a vanguard force as China continues to become a global power. If the Party is weak, disorganized, and corrupt by chasing material profit, this mission and the Party's primacy are jeopardized.
As I noted at the beginning of my discussion, one issue that may fly "under the radar" with those reporting on the Xi-Obama meeting is the issue of pursuing and extraditing corrupt Chinese officials believed to be hidden in the United States. The U.S. Government's attitude toward the issue of extradition is key here. China wants its corrupt officials back and the money that they have taken with them. Conversely, the United States is concerned about legal procedures, evidence, and the legal rights of accused officials.
In 2011, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that between 16,000 and 18,000 former officials fled with over 800 billion yuan ($140 billion) from the mid-1990s to 2008. Ordinary Chinese citizens are rightly furious at corrupt officials who flee China with public funds.
While the United States doesn't have an extradition treaty with China, the U.S. Department of Justice can still arrest and return fugitives to China. In March of this year, the U.S. Department of State was given a list of 150 corrupt Chinese officials provided by the CCDI believed to be hiding in the United States. For their part, the United States vowed cooperation to help extradite them. However, at the June meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, China expressed concerns about U.S. reluctance to extradite accused fugitives. If China believes that the United States is harboring fugitives for reasons other than for legitimate legal procedures, it could impact not only cooperation on this issue, but on a host of other issues as well. In other words, how and where China-U.S. cooperation transpires on this issue can and will impact greater China-U.S. relations.
The author is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a professor of political science
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