Chongqing: the big cleanup.

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Brian Hennessy. An Australian in China. September, 2009

Chongqing has the potential to become a hub for tourism in the greater southwest region of China. However, this potential is not being realised. Tourists don’t stay in Chongqing for long. They just regard Chongqing as a place to board a vessel for their trip down through the famous Three Gorges. However, Chongqing has a more serious problems to worry about.

 

Chongqing: the big cleanup

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Chongqing has many attractions which are as good as anything else that can be found in China. From ancient history; to nature’s wildly beautiful scenic spots; to vibrantly alive minority cultures; it is all here in this ruggedly beautiful part of inland China.

So why hasn’t this resource been exploited?

Answer: Because the thinking of the responsible government administrators is short-term, narrow, and unprofessional. They think ‘local’ rather than ‘global’, and ’short-term’ rather than ‘long-term’. They refuse to market or promote Chongqing and its attractions overseas.

So tourists continue to arrive in Chongqing, and depart the next day without knowing what they have missed out on. In the meantime, other forward-thinking cities in China benefit from Chongqing’s backwardness.

But Chongqing has a more serious problem than an under-promoted tourism industry:

Business enterprises as well as tourists are bypassing Chongqing.

Despite the fact that Chongqing’s business environment is backed by the central government, and regardless of the fact that it is highly competitive with other cities and provinces in china, business is gravitating to Chengdu, Chongqing’s competitor in neighbouring Sichuan Province.

Business is bypassing Chonging.

Why?

Answer: Because Chengdu is regarded as more foreigner-friendly and progressive, while Chongqing is regarded as the opposite.

The Chongqing government includes too many administrative dinosaurs who are both unable and unwilling to adapt to a changing environment. Although Chongqing’s skyline may have changed, the thinking of these middle managers has not. They have a ‘cargo-cult’ or ‘build it and they will come’ mentality.

Further, this city supports too many administrators who have only two goals in life: (i) to accrue as much power for themselves as possible; and (ii) to squeeze the community below for as much personal gain as they can extract. Self-interest rather than public service is their ‘modus operandi’. Personal and public ethics are foreign concepts to them.

This lack of ethics, and the low standard of professional behaviour which accompanies this deficit, is damaging Chongqing’s international reputation.

The results of this deficit are evident to anyone with eyes to see: Tourists continue to bypass Chongqing for professionally promoted and managed attractions elsewhere; and foreign enterprises continue to bypass Chongqing and its potential in favour of a more professionally managed, higher profile Chengdu.

The situation is critical. Urgent remedial action is needed.

There is hope. Government is intervening.

The central government is alert to the damage which is being by done by these local authorities. In particular, it is alert to those individuals who have benefited personally from Chongqing’s underground culture of corruption. A culture that is now being exposed by the investigations of the Central-government-appointed Party Secretary Bo Xilai and his team.

The Beijing fox is in the Chongqing hen-house and feathers are flying. Two years later, we can see the results of his efforts. Arrests. Thousands of them. Beginning at the top with the head of the Public Security Bureau (China’s Police force); then sweeping (literally) through descending levels of government authority; and out onto the street where organised crime openly challenges the authority of the government.

Corrupt and inefficient government roosters who believed that the hen-house was impregnable and that they were untouchable are now behind bars. Organised crime has lost its leadership.

This is good news for Chongqing and for those of us who don’t have deep enough pockets to call government officers our bosom friends.

Although it is difficult not be a little cynical about the seriousness or the long-term effectiveness of Bo Xi Lai’s interventions (sometimes China’s corruption wars are merely internal power-plays aimed at weakening one’s opponents), nevertheless it appears that this investigation has been a genuine attempt to tackle corruption in Chongqing. Only good can come of this.

And for those pessimists who doubt whether this anti-corruption drive will have any long-term effect, we should remember that it took the USA decades to limit the power and influence of the mafia. Persistence is the rule. This will be the test of Beijing’s sincerity: will it persist?

Opportunity.

Bo Xilai’s investigations offer the Chongqing government many opportunities. An opportunity to continue the clean-up, and an opportunity to appoint more honest and talented professionals to public positions of power and responsibility. It is also an opportunity for generational change.

Perhaps now is the time to suggest to the Chongqing government that individual government minds need to be opened to the realities of a globalised, competetive environment. Outdated patterns of thinking have little to offer China in these times of rapid social and economic change. They are a dead weight only,  holding China back rather than helping China to advance.

A little formal instruction on ethics, and the social responsibilities of a government to its people might also help Chongqing’s dinosaurs adapt to a changing world. Confucian ethics would be a good place to begin. Followed by a re-reading of the Chinese Communist Party’s own ‘rule-book’, and topped off with some relevant foreign social/government philosophies which could be adapted to China’s needs.

We live in a globalised world and should think accordingly. This is not a time for Cultural chauvinism. Cultural chauvinism suggests weakness, not strength.

Comment.

This is the clean-up that Chongqing had to have. But it is a beginning only. The authorities must follow through. Strong leadership is needed.

However, credit must be given where it is due. And Chongqing should be congratulated for having the courage to clean up its own mess, regardless of the consequences.

We wish Chongqing every success in this fight against the cancer of corruption.

Ignorance and self-interest work against the common good. Corruption does not spread wealth across a community. Enlightened leadership benefits everybody.

–oo0oo–

Post Script (Dec 1, 2009).

The mayor of Chongqing, Wang Hongju, has been sacked. It is irrelevant whether or not he also is guilty of corruption. The fact is, his city’s international and domestic reputation has been severely tarnished under his watch. This development is a welcome sign of improving government accountability. The buck has to stop somewhere.

This is another encouraging sign for those who want faith restored in Chongqing and its institutions. The first sign of generational change perhaps? Beginning at the top.

 

 

 

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