Sleazy States

By Danilo Zak

In 2006, a Chinese State Council survey asked nearly 5000 Chinese businessmen to rate the integrity of their companies. According to a Carnegie Center report on the study, almost a quarter responded with either “bad” or “very bad.”

-In 2009, the murder of Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya remained unsolved. Her work focused on exposing corruption and human rights violations made by the Russian Government.

-In 2012, the sensationalist trial of Chinese political star Bo Xilai for years of bribery and fraud resulted in a life sentence. The trial sparked a national debate on the problem of corruption, and eventually led to new leader Xi Jingping’s fierce anti-corruption campaign.

-In 2014, noted Russian anti-corruption crusader Alexey Navalny was put on house arrest and was cut off from his popular blog. Ironically, after years of targeting Russian financial fraud, Navalny’s conviction was for supposed embezzlement.

These are mere flashpoints in a legacy of corruption that has plagued both Russia and China for decades and has come to define the domestic policy of these two superpowers.  The two states are saturated with corruption at nearly every level, and over the next few months this blog hopes to explore the impact and the intricacies of that context. For now, a brief summary of where things stand is in order.

Although corruption in Russia has been evident since the end of World War II, it has been particularly prevalent in the 21st Century. Under the Putin Regime, evidence abounds of fraud in both the governmental and financial sectors. In the past year, Russian President Medvedev wrote an op-ed for the Russian Gazette reporting that corrupt government contracts had cost Russia 35 billion dollars, or roughly three percent of the total GDP. According to Transparency International, a prominent anti-corruption organization, Russia continues to rank most corrupt on the permanent U.N. Security Council, easily outpacing runner-up China. As Russia deals with the crisis in Ukraine, sanctions from the West, and a tanking economy, look for corruption to remain a massive roadblock to a bright future in Moscow, especially if the Kremlin continues to lock up anti-corruption fighters like Navalny.

The Kremlin in Moscow: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Kremlin in Moscow: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, in China, the issue of widespread corruption has come to a head after years of mounting graft and rent-seeking within both business and politics. When Chairman Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he immediately declared that major anti-corruption reforms, especially regarding politics, would be a central focus of his tenure. Xi’s campaign would purportedly target both “tigers” and “flies,” meaning no amount of political power would prevent a potential investigation of corrupt actions. There is extensive debate as to whether this anti-corruption campaign was merely a ploy for Chairman Xi to knock off key political rivals and consolidate power. After two years, the effectiveness and motive behind the Chinese anti-corruption efforts remains unclear. The Chinese Communist Party reports that it has punished 72,000 of its members regarding issues of graft in 2014, but is this staggering number indicative of a positive trend or merely of the continued rampant corruption that pervades Chinese politics? In any case, as the Chinese government focuses on enacting economic reforms and employing aggressive tactics in the South China Sea, corruption remains a major issue on the Chinese domestic agenda.

Chinese Yuan: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Chinese Yuan: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lurking in nearly every major US foreign policy decision is the specter of fellow superpowers Russia and China; and lurking in the institutional makeup of these two formidable states is the specter of corruption. Whether political or economic, involving bribery or murder, this issue lies at the heart of many of their central problems. While the predicaments in Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea dominate the news cycle, corruption in China and Russia deserves to be more closely examined,  and may lead to further foreign policy revelations.

Danilo Zak ’18 is in Silliman College. Contact him at