Under the new regulation, officials ranked as department and bureau chiefs and above are required to make annual reports on the business activities of their spouses, sons and daughters, and sons- and daughters-in-law. Their close relatives are forbidden not only from owning businesses, but also from working as senior executives in private or foreign enterprises, private equity fund markets, or as consultants.
By specifying these official ranks, the regulation essentially covers all mid- and high-ranking officials, said Professor Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of the Research Center for Government Integrity-Building at Peking University in Beijing. “It sends a powerful message about the central leadership’s determination to carry on the anti-graft drive and to promote social justice,” Zhuang told NewsChina.
China’s first regulation to forbid officials’ relatives from engaging in business passed in June 1985, when central authorities targeted immediate family members of senior officials ranked above county chief. In 2001, the CCDI issued rules that demanded that spouses and offspring of provincial and prefectural leaders pull out of any business investments.
According to Professor Mao Zhaohui, director of the Center for Anti-corruption and Clean Government at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, the regulation aims to tackle recent trends in corruption cases. “Since central authorities launched their high-profile anti-corruption campaign, the spouses and offspring of some officials took advantage of the ‘soft power’ they have to engage in ‘hidden’ corruption,” Mao told NewsChina.
In some cases, family members of senior officials are “preyed” upon by businesspeople, Mao added. “If an official is believed to have potential for promotion, those seeking to establish a connection with them start building business relationships with their family members,” Mao said.
A number of high-profile corruption cases involving officials’ families and relatives have come to light in recent years. For example, relatives of Lü Xiwen, the former deputy Party secretary of Beijing who in February 2017 was sentenced to 13 years for taking 18.8 million yuan (US$2.8m) in bribes, had helped him funnel money, according to the court ruling.
A more typical case is Zhao Zhengyong, former Party chief of Shaanxi Province, who was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in July 2020 for corruption-related crimes involving 717 million yuan (US$107m). According to media reports, Zhao’s daughter worked for several State-owned banks, and was paid over 20 million yuan (US$2.9m) in both salaries and commissions for “attracting bank deposits.”
According to Zhu Lijia, a professor at the National Academy of Governance in Beijing, the role of senior officials’ sons- and daughters-in-law has become more prominent in recent cases, which prompted local authorities to expand supervision.
After Shanghai authorities targeted this group in their anti-graft regulation in May 2015, authorities in Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region followed suit. The new anti-corruption regulation is the first at the national level that specifically includes sons- and daughters-in-law of senior officials.
In January 2017, Su Rong, former deputy chairman of the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was sentenced to life in prison for corruption. His wife, son, daughter, brother and other relatives were involved in the case. Ten months later, his son-in-law Cheng Danfeng, former vice mayor of Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking bribes through Su’s influence. Su’s case exemplifies “family-based” corruption.