It’s in China’s Interest to Fight Corruption on the Belt and Road

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, is a program through which China will spearhead the funding and construction of new infrastructure and trade networks across Eurasia and Africa. The centerpiece of the BRI is hard infrastructure: roads, railroads, ports, pipelines, and power plants. The scale of the proposed investment is immense: $1 trillion for projects spanning 75 countries.

The risk of corruption in such large-scale infrastructure is also immense, but at least initially, the BRI ignored corruption. When China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the powerful government organ in charge of economic planning, issued the first comprehensive statement of the principles and framework undergirding the BRI back in March 2015, anticorruption principles were nowhere mentioned, nor did the published framework include any anticorruption measures. A later, more detailed policy document, published in 2017, also failed to include any mention of anticorruption. This posture is generally consistent with China’s traditional “non-interference” foreign policy, which makes Chinese authorities reluctant to go after overseas corruption.

More recently, though, Beijing has begun to respond to the BRI’s corruption risks. President Xi himself urged greater international cooperation on anticorruption at the June 2017 Belt and Road Forum. In September 2017, China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection helped organize a symposium called “Strengthening International Cooperation for a Clean Belt and Road.” And last December, the NDRC and other regulatory bodies issued new rules governing overseas investment by private Chinese companies, including a prohibition on “brib[ing] local public officials, or personnel from international organizations or related enterprises.” That same month, China’s State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission issued new guidance that requires state-owned enterprises to strengthen their anticorruption compliance procedures.

These are steps in the right direction. The question is whether the government’s newfound focus on corruption in the BRI is serious. Skeptics point out that Chinese authorities have never prosecuted a Chinese company or official for foreign bribery. Others suggest that the new regulations are more about controlling Chinese outbound investment than combating overseas corruption. I’m somewhat more optimistic, though, that Chinese authorities are serious about tackling corruption in the BRI. In my view, taking BRI corruption seriously is in the Chinese government’s interest for four reasons:

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It’s Time for China to Show Its Foreign Bribery Law is Not a Paper Tiger

In May 2011, China criminalized the bribery of foreign public officials. More specifically, the 8th Amendment to China’s Criminal Law, among other things, added Article 164(2), which prohibits both natural persons and units (i.e. companies and other organizations) under Chinese criminal jurisdiction from giving “property to any foreign public official or official of an international public organization for the purpose of seeking illegitimate commercial benefit.” This legislative action, intended in part to fulfill China’s obligations as a State Party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, was considered an accomplishment given the under-criminalization of foreign bribery in Asia Pacific at the time. Many commentators devoted substantial attention to questions about the law’s meaning, including the definition of almost every term in the provision (“property,” “foreign public official,” “international public organization,” “illegitimate commercial benefit,” etc.—for a sampling, see here, here, here, here, here, or just search for “China Criminal Law 164” using any search engine).

However, almost seven years have passed, and nothing substantial has happened, except for some minor movements related to the law as observed by the media and commentators in some official and unofficial statements (see, for example, here, here, and here). Not a single enforcement action has been brought (or at least publicized) under Article 164(2). Even after President Xi Jinping launched in 2013 the most extensive anti-graft campaign China has ever seen, there have been no foreign anti-bribery enforcement actions.

There are several possible explanations for China’s non-enforcement of 164(2). One possibility, discussed previously on this blog, is that China’s traditional “non-interference” foreign policy might make China reluctant to go after transnational bribery; more generally, China might not be interested in devoting resources to fighting forms of corruption that don’t have domestic effects. Some have also suggested that China has little incentive to enforce its foreign anti-bribery law because bribery of foreign officials gives Chinese firms a competitive advantage in certain jurisdictions. It’s also possible that simple inertia is part of the story: It’s worth keeping in mind that although the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) was enacted in 1977, almost 80% of the FCPA enforcement actions (amounting to 95% of the total FCPA sanctions) occurred after 2007. Similarly, the UK Bribery Act came into force in 2011, but the first foreign bribery case under that act wasn’t resolved until 2014. South Korea enacted its foreign bribery law in 1999 but didn’t prosecute its first case until 2003, while Japan took even longer, enacting a foreign bribery law in 1998 but not bringing its first case until nine years later, in 2007. In fact, Transparency International observed in 2015 that about half of the then-42 countries taking part in the OECD Convention on Combating Foreign Bribery (to which China is not a party) have not yet prosecuted a single foreign bribery case since the Convention came into force in 1999. So China’s inertia is hardly unique.

Yet regardless of the reasons why China has not enforced its foreign bribery law, and regardless of whether this inaction renders China unusual or typical, it is now high time for China to start enforcing this law aggressively. Doing so is in China’s long-term strategic interests, for three reasons: Continue reading

Too Much of a Good Thing? Moderation and Anticorruption Strategies in Greece

This past month’s headlines have been dominated by the Greek debt crisis and how it has been handled (or mishandled) by the EU and IMF. The Syriza party, which rose to prominence due in large part to its opposition to the austerity measures imposed upon Greece by its creditors, first rejected a deal offered by its European creditors to procure additional funds and then, following the resignation of its finance minister and a hotly contested vote in Parliament, accepted the imposition of additional restrictions, including “consumer tax increases and pensions cuts” in anticipation of another round of negotiations to receive a bailout “worth about 85 billion euros.” It is impossible to predict what the final terms of any deal reached during the course of these negotiations may be; once the dust has finally settled and Greece has either acquiesced to the demands of its European creditors in order to secure needed funds or undertaken the “Grexit” from the Euro that many commentators fear, its government will be forced to once more take stock of its economic position and determine the best path forward to meet both the obligations imposed upon it by its creditors and its people’s desire for a brighter economic future.

Given this ongoing macroeconomic and political crisis, measures to address corruption in Greece–both domestically and abroad–may seem like a secondary concern at best. Yet there are those (especially those sympathetic to Greece’s international creditors) who believe that Greece’s troubles are due at least in part to its failure to adequately address corruption, and that Greece could bolster its faltering economy if it reined in the rampant corruption that has perennially placed Greece amongst the most corrupt nations in the European Union. And while Syriza and its creditors may agree on very little, Syriza in fact also made anticorruption a major part of its campaign platform, though its attempts to implement more robust anticorruption measures are at best in their nascent stages and have been overshadowed by the recent contentious negotiations over a new bailout.

So while this may seem premature, perhaps we should consider how the Greek government ought to approach its anticorruption struggle in the coming years. And here, strategic prioritization is likely to be essential: If we presume (reasonably) that Greece is unlikely to be able to commit considerably greater resources to its anticorruption efforts in the near term, the Greek government will have to make some difficult choices regarding how best to allocate its finite resources when deciding if and how to target different forms of corruption.

One such choice will be how much to prioritize the fight against foreign bribery (that is, bribes paid by Greek citizens and firms in other countries). Last March, the OECD released a report chiding Greece for not having “given the same priority to fighting foreign bribery as it has to domestic corruption,” a decision that, according to the OECD, “sends an unfortunate message that foreign bribery is an acceptable means to…improve Greece’s economy during an economic crisis.” This may well be true. Yet to the extent that Greece is able to renew its focus upon combating corruption in the aftermath of its current bailout negotiations, Greece would be better off if it (temporarily) ignores the OECD’s advice and instead focuses primarily on domestic rather than foreign corruption. There are several reasons for this:

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