January 8, 2021:
Someone, somehow, leaked a database of two million CCP (Chinese Communist Party) members, including many who are living and working in the West. The database was up to date as it also included current employment. China quickly responded in several, often contradictory ways. China denounced the bad behavior of whoever was responsible for stealing and publicizing the date. China also insisted that the database was of no practical use to foreigners. Finally, China insisted that the database was a fake, created to embarrass China.
Based on what was already known about how the CCP operates and the need for key Chinese officials to be members, it appeared that the database was authentic. It is standard practice for CCP members living and working abroad to quietly form cells consisting of between three and a dozen members working in the same foreign company or locality. Originally these cells were meant to insure loyalty of all cell members because one job of CCP members is to monitor the behavior of other CCP members and the most efficient way to do that, especially outside China, was to organize cells. If one cell member misbehaved and was caught, all the cell members were held responsible. At the very least this became part of each cell members' permanent record, at worst it could mean a criminal investigation of each cell member. For overseas cell members this reliability aspect is particularly important because overseas cells are often engaged in carrying our espionage missions or supporting cells or local operatives that are.
The CCP currently has about 90 million members. Few of these are true communists because the CCP has evolved from a political movement to a powerful tool for political control inside China and espionage abroad. Currently CCP membership indicates someone who is trusted by the government and is subject to regular, or special scrutiny by the government to regularly confirm loyalty and reliability. Since the 1980s, as China became wealthy by allowing a market economy, party members often took advantage of their party connections to become successful entrepreneurs. At the same time the CCP was no longer demanding ideological purity from new members. If they were loyal to the CCP, they could be members and most successful people in business and the professions became CCP members because without that they could not get far in their economic endeavors. Non-members were always suspect.
This CCP member scrutiny has been going on for over a decade and serves mainly to detect and punish corruption. That was because after 2000 the senior leadership began to realize that the major threat to their power, and ability to control the nation, was growing public anger at the corruption common at all levels of the party. Cleaning up this mess is still a work in progress and a decade ago, as investigations into the extent of this corruption were conducted, it became obvious that the problem was far more pervasive and damaging than senior officials realized.
By 2011 the government was publicly threatening to execute corrupt judges as well as members of the security services. The government leadership was getting desperate about stopping the growing public anger over corrupt officials, and the threat of rebellion, or just widespread unrest, that it implied.
The CCP that has controlled China for over seventy years came to accept the fact that it is its own worst enemy. The problem is the ancient Chinese flaw of corruption. One advantage of joining the Party is that it gives you an edge in getting government jobs, especially ones that enable you to get rich by taking bribes. Since the 1990s, the government has announced several campaigns to eliminate the corruption, and all the anger and anti-government gossip among the people the communists are supposed to be serving. Most of these efforts hardly made a dent in the corruption. While more death sentences for corrupt senior officials makes headlines, it’s the millions of minor acts of corruption every day that cause most of the anger. One of the more common irritants is police corruption, which often takes the form of police being used by corrupt officials to steal land or other assets. In addition to that, police often demand bribes to avoid punishment for real or imagined crimes. The government acknowledges that there is a problem with the cops, but have not been able to do anything meaningful to reform the two million strong police force. Too many cops are basically for hire, often to the highest bidder among local officials, businessmen or gangsters. The central government can only intervene in a few places, and the threat of that ensures that the police put a priority on keeping the peace in their neighborhood. As a result, police commanders were punished because of the Uighur and Tibetan unrest, but not for all the bribes police took, but how that played a role in causing the unrest among the Uighurs and Tibetans. The local police were actually being punished for not being able to clean up the mess they made and the mass punishment of local police did send a powerful message to all Chinese police.
There's a lot of corruption remaining in the military as well. Since the 1990s, the government has worked to eliminate the worst of the theft and moonlighting. The most outrageous examples of this have been curbed. Military officers no longer use cash from the defense budget to set up weapons factories they then run and profit from. Big chunks of procurement cash no longer disappear into the offshore bank accounts of generals and admirals. But there's still a lot of corruption. Much is still for sale, like promotions. Lower ranking officers and NCOs can still be found selling weapons and equipment that is reported "destroyed" or "missing." Commanders who are not doing so well can pay to have reports of their performance upgraded.
The best indicator of how well corruption in the military has been handled is how officials personally assess the military. Senior Chinese officials still have doubts about how effective the military would be in another war, and that is discussed quietly before small groups of officials. Details of those confidential discussions often get leaked eventually. First as “chatter” and eventually as public comments to try and put the reported chatter into perspective. Even staff at the state controlled mass media pick up on in this quality issue. It has been noted, usually by journalists, that the army response to several recent national disasters, which usually employ troops for disaster relief, had problems. This is not supposed to be reported, but the journalists discuss it among themselves, and some of this knowledge gets onto the Internet and outside the country. People love to gossip, especially in a police state like China.
But for the government, gossip against them is the first stage of revolution. And the biggest topic of such gossip are the unrelenting complaints about government corruption. Senior officials prefer to ignore problems until they can no longer be ignored. Corruption has reached that level and senior leaders are trying to improve the effectiveness and loyalty of CCP members. Most of the corrupt individuals punished are party members, although that is ignored or played down in the state-controlled media. Most Chinese take it for granted that “corrupt=CCP member”. Purging the CCP is not easy because so many Chinese are members. The government is using its new Big Brother continuing monitoring and evaluation (of individuals) system to make it easier to detect and deal with corrupt party members before there is a public incident. Big Brother is watching party members too and cell members are advised to keep that in mind.