China's very public campaign against graft has netted thousands of officials both big and small — “tigers” and “flies,” in Communist Party parlance — but the perception of China as a deeply corrupt country is only rising, according to a leading watchdog group.
A spokesman for Transparency International, Thomas Coombes, said that China's standing was damaged by the perception among some experts and businesspeople that its anticorruption campaign was partial, opaque and politically motivated, casting doubt on its efficacy.
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“The campaign is just the tip of the iceberg, and is not even being done in a transparent manner,” Mr. Coombes said.
The index ranked China 104th among 175 countries, a drop of 20 places from last year, and the single largest drop in terms of ranking.
The worsening of perceptions of corruption in China may also be because the campaign, ordered by President Xi Jinping nearly two years ago, has exposed major structural problems in how corruption is being fought, Mr. Coombes said.
What Transparency International looks for as a sign of genuine improvement in the fight against corruption is “permanent and structural change,” he said.
“I think the problem is what China is not doing: transparency and accountability of public officials,” Mr. Coombes said.
What is missing are “stronger laws on bribery, access to information, whistleblower protection, more open budgets and asset declarations,” he said in an email.
Once again, Nordic countries were clustered at the top of the index, which grades countries on a scale of zero to 100, with a higher number indicating lower corruption. Denmark received the highest score at 92. China scored 36, a four-point drop from the previous year. Turkey fell by five points, the single biggest points drop.
New Zealand came second at 91, followed by Finland, Sweden and Norway.
“The fact that the Nordic countries are consistently on top shows how important free speech, accountable government and independent judiciary are to fighting corruption. These are all missing in China,” Mr. Coombes said.
China's ranking put it just below Algeria and above Suriname. Three African countries — Angola, Malawi and Rwanda — also recorded four-point drops, the report said.
Corruption in most countries was a serious problem, the index found. More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50, the halfway mark to a corruption-free society.
The index is calculated from 12 independent sources, including surveys conducted by different groups of businesspeople and other experts. Among them is the Executive Opinion Survey by the World Economic Forum and the Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project, which looks at the legal environment around corruption issues.
In China's case, “several sources suggested the campaign is politically motivated, so more transparency and judicial independence would also help,” Mr. Coombes said. He added that China also needed to offer far greater protection for whistleblowers.
A major problem with a crackdown without legal or political transparency was that corrupt officials could easily hide overseas, “indeed in almost any financial center worldwide, be it the British Virgin Islands, Delaware or London,” he said.
To combat that, the organization urged all countries, especially the United States and the countries of the European Union and the Group of 20, to create public registers “that would make clear who really controls, or is the beneficial owner, of every company” in an effort to track the international flow of illicit funds.
The organization lauded China for removing in principle its opposition to sharing information about the beneficial owners of companies at the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, last month, but said, “they stopped short of the public company registers we want.”
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