'Set the Microblogs Alight'

A Chinese dissident journalist says public disclosure of officials' assets would encourage more whistleblowing on corruption.

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china-gao-yu-305.jpg Gao Yu speaks at an International PEN conference in Hong Kong, Feb. 5, 2007.

Amid an an anti-corruption campaign launched by China's incoming president Xi Jinping, Fan Songqing, a high-ranking official in the Guangzhou municipal parliament, recently pledged to declare details of his and his family's assets.

Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu, a former deputy editor of the cutting-edge Economic Weekly newspaper who advocates for press freedoms and once served a seven-year prison sentence for "publishing state secrets," explains why she doesn't think much of Fan's promise:

Declaring isn't the same as publishing. Declaring is an internal, bureaucratic thing, and his assets will be taken to be however much he says they are. What's more, there are rules about what gets announced publicly.

It depends what is being publicly announced; whether it's the assets of the entire family, or whether there are are limits on what gets made public. For the time being, I don't even have access to the details of this declaration.

Gao said the fact that a single official had offered to reveal his wealth carried little meaning for China's struggle with rampant official corruption as a whole:

He is claiming to be so poor, but that doesn't mean that everyone is like him. That's why the public wants a sunshine law to be brought in.

Bringing all of this into the open would be a very good thing. Also, the fact that Fan has offered to declare his assets is no guarantee of his probity, nor does it mean that all the officials would be willing to do the same.

I still think there's a huge amount of resistance to this idea. There are unspoken rules among officials, and one of them is that everyone helps to cover up for everyone else; they have each others' backs.

Another is that any declaration of assets should be done according to a collective system.

I don't think that would be very credible [even if they did all publish their assets that the figures], because anything that officials say about their own assets is dubious.

But it would have this benefit: it would force officials to shine a light on their own family dealings, and give the public the opportunity to monitor them. As soon as they declared their assets, the microblogs would be set alight with people following and searching, and it would encourage whistleblowers to make further reports.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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