Amid China’s anti-graft campaign, official hounded out — for being too honest

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A Chinese paramilitary policeman raises a Chinese national flag at a flag-raising ceremony in 2012 at Tiananmen Square near the Great Hall of the People, where the closing ceremony for the 18th Communist Party Congress will be held, in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

BEIJING — At the start of a far-reaching government campaign against corruption, Communist Party official Fan Songqing had the bright idea of publicly declaring all of his assets, and encouraging his colleagues to do the same. But instead of being praised and held up as an example of clean governance, Fan was effectively hounded out of office, finally resigning from his post of political adviser in the southern city of Guangzhou earlier this month. Fan told the official China Daily newspaper that he had faced too much pressure from his colleagues after disclosing his assets in January 2013, and proposing that Party cadres and government officials should do the same. As a result, many colleagues alienated him and some even tried to malign his reputation.Fan is not the only person to run into trouble for recommending officials declare their assets since the anti-corruption campaign began. Several members of the New Citizens Movement, a loosely knit grassroots group, have been detained and the most prominent sentenced to several years in jail, after unfurling banners in public places making the same recommendation.

The arrest of those activists was seen as a sign that the Party was unwilling to allow the public to take part in the anti-corruption campaign, and instead wanted to control the process very carefully.

Some say that is because President Xi Jinping is using the anti-corruption campaign to eliminate political opponents; others say the Party does want to unleash forces it cannot control by allowing whistleblowers to set the agenda or demands for transparency to become more widespread, especially when so many people at every level within the system are corrupt.

“Fan’s case proves that even though the current anti-corruption campaign is the strictest ever, it has completely failed to change the mainstream, which is that every official is corrupt,” said Hu Xingdou, a political commentator at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “It just made corruption move behind the scenes.”

Fan served as deputy secretary-general of the Guangzhou Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a toothless advisory body to the Communist Party, and had made the declaration at the body’s annual session two years ago.

“Making information on the operation of government as well as Party and government officials more transparent, by putting it in the public domain, is an effective way to prevent and curb corruption,” Fan told the newspaper. “The CPPCC session should be a stage for telling the truth, and political advisers should have an even more active role participating in State and government affairs by putting forward valuable proposals.”

Fan said the scrutiny had become so intense that he did not even hold a wedding ceremony for his only daughter last year, and was forced to put up a sign at his father-in-law’s funeral ceremony saying he would not accept any gifts, so as not to give grounds for gossip.

“Fan’s fight with corruption is the equivalent of going against the whole system, which is doomed to fail, because he betrayed his colleagues and the system,” said Hu. “What happened to Fan will warn others who try to be clean.  It also shows how nervous officials are, and how disgusted they feel about the anti-corruption campaign.”

But Fan told China Daily he was in good spirits after stepping down and would still take an interest in the city’s battle against corruption.

Xu Jing contributed to this report.

  Simon Denyer is The Post’s bureau chief in China. He served previously as bureau chief in India and as a Reuters bureau chief in Washington, India and Pakistan.