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China Targets Corrupt Officials With Overseas Assets

As China presses ahead with its anti-graft effort, authorities are zeroing in on so-called “naked officials.”

That is the name given to corrupt Communist cadres who send their wives or children abroad and channel their illegal profits out of the country.

The issue is not new, but it has become more public after senior politicians targeted in graft investigations were caught hiding wealth abroad.

Hong Kong University politics professor Zhu Jiangnan said, “A lot of family members of the Chinese officials, they are living a luxurious lifestyle overseas, and apparently with the regular salary of the government officials it's hard to afford that kind of life, so immediately people will ask: is this probably related to corruption? Where do they get the money?”

The government is trying to quantify the problem, and regions in China have completed an internal survey. But, so far, only the province of Guangdong has dared to report it found officials with overseas assets.

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The campaign resonates in China, where many believe the government is up against a very widespread practice.

"There is no official who is not corrupt. They can't keep that wealth in China because otherwise it can all be discovered and taken,” one man said.

A woman in Beijing said, "In China, because people only have one child, they give their children all their most cherished possessions. In this case, they send them and their wives to live abroad because they feel it would be safer. This is a sign of mistrust in the Chinese system."

President Xi Jinping has also urged a change in style for cadres and warned China's youth that being a civil servant is not a money-making career.

Such an approach has won him praise in China.

"It does not have that big of an impact on common people, it us not going to affect my pay, or my lifestyle, but it is going to help the country and the party's image,” said one man from Beijing.

Wealth, assets of officials

Public shaming of “naked officials” has renewed a debate about how little the public in China knows about the wealth and assets of officials in general.

China has yet to draft a nationwide law to require officials to disclose their assets, despite strong calls from scholars and activists.

“They are saying a more effective way to regulate this [“naked officials”], is ultimately you probably have to implement the rule of asset publicity for officials. Otherwise, there is no way for the public to supervise,” Zhu said.

But short of pilot programs for lower-level officials, it is unclear what the party plans are for its ruling elite.