China is continuing an anti-corruption efforts by targeting officials who have family members and property outside the country. People in China are asking how many officials have moved money out of the country, and how likely it is that they will be caught.
A local official in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen resigned her position after reports said her husband had moved to the United States. It caused people to start talking about what are called "naked officials" in China. That is the name people give to government officials who stay in China, but send their spouses or children to live in another country. Some people believe this gives the officials a place to send money they have stolen from the government without being discovered by anti-corruption investigators.
The Shenzhen official is named Liu Tan. She admitted her husband had moved to the United States in the 1980s. Chinese media says this alone is proof that she is a "naked official." But she says she is, in her words, "just a normal wife and mother."
Zhu Jiangnan is an assistant professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong. She says many Chinese officials send their family members to other countries. She says it would be very difficult for the Chinese government to tell its workers not to do that. But she says people wonder how the family members are able to support themselves outside of China.
"The problem is how do their family members support their lives overseas? Do they have their own regular job and are financially independent from officials working in China? But if a lot of their financial support comes from the official who still remains in China, this will naturally put a lot of doubt on where they get this large amount of money."
Recently, the Ministry of Public Security announced that more than 150 former Chinese officials live in the United States alone. Many of them are suspected of stealing government money in China.
Professor Zhu believes the number of officials caught or suspected of being "naked" is a small percentage of the number who are guilty. And she says even the government does not know how many of its officials are naked.
"The government requires all officials to report the residential status of their family members to tell if their family members are staying in China, or actually migrated to other countries. However a lot of officials have not reported this information honestly, and it is really hard to verify if the information is true."
The Communist Party has put in place new rules urging officials with family members living in other countries to either bring them back to China or resign. And in recent months, anti-corruption investigators have been looking at local officials. Chinese media reported that by the end of last month, all local governments had completed an investigation of where officials and their families live.
Some local governments said they had no "naked officials." But most did not release the findings of their investigation.
Only Guangdong province reported problems. It said it had 2,190 "naked officials." And it said it had already removed 866 of them.
Because most local governments did not release the results of their investigation, many people are asking questions about how severe the problem is. The debate has also shown how little people in China know about the wealth of their local and national leaders. For many years, officials have been discussing a plan that would force government leaders to tell about their wealth. But the country still does not have a law that would require that information to be made public.
In fact, the country's leaders have shown they are not willing to discuss the problem with the public by detaining activists who had called for officials to tell about their wealth.
Experts say if President Xi Jinping is serious about catching "naked officials," it will be necessary for the public to have information about the wealth of their leaders.