The power of Chinese netizens as an anti-corruption force has been demonstrated once again as a senior economic policy maker was removed from his post after his alleged indiscretions were reported by a journalist on the Internet.
Liu Tienan, a vice minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, was dismissed for "suspected serious violations of discipline," said a Tuesday statement from the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
Two days ago, the Party's top disciplinary watchdog announced it had placed Liu under investigation for the same reason.
Although neither statement provided details, the public believe Liu's sacking had something to do with Luo Changping, a deputy editor of Caijing magazine, who first exposed Liu's "wrongdoing" on the Internet in December.
Luo accused Liu of colluding with a businessman for benefits and falsifying his education background, among other allegations. In a posting on Monday on China's popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform, Luo wrote that he had spent a year verifying and cross-checking the accusations against Liu.
The 58-year-old Liu is not the first official brought down by real-name whistleblowing on the Internet. In another prominent case in November, Lei Zhengfu was dismissed as Party chief of the southwestern Chongqing City's Beibei District after his sex scandal was brought to light on a website by Zhu Ruifeng, an independent investigative journalist.
Real-name reporting promoted
The landmark downfall of Liu suggested the ruling party welcomes netizens to join the anti-corruption campaign in a rational, legal way and encourages them to report officials' wrongdoing under their real names, according to Zhou Shuzhen, a politics professor with Renmin University of China.
From April 19, a number of major news and commercial portals have provided links on their homepages to official tip-off websites of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the Party's organization department, as well as the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Land and Resources.
The move has met with enthusiastic participation by netizens as daily page views of the five websites have more than tripled and the number of reports they received almost doubled, according to statistics issued by the State Internet Information Office last week.
A statement on the portals promotes the use of real names by whistleblowers, warning against fabricated reports, fake evidence and framings. "Those who slander others will be seriously dealt with and even be held legally responsible," it reads.
Though the role of the Internet in fighting corruption has proved effective, some false or malicious tip-offs offered by anonymous netizens have harmed innocent people, tarnishing the victims' reputations and breaching their privacy, pointed out Xin Ming, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.
In addition, anonymous tip-offs also add to the difficulty of follow-up investigations by disciplinary authorities, Xin said.
Real-name reporting could help investigators handle the cases faster and more efficiently and thus prevent corrupt officials from fleeing the country, said Yang Lan, a junior staff with the provincial government of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
By the end of 2012, the number of Internet users in China had reached 564 million. The community contributed 12 percent of clues leading to corruption probes, or 300,100 items, received by the CCDI and the Ministry of Supervision from 2008 to 2012, according to Zhang Shaolong, deputy director of the letters and calls office under the CCDI.
Chinese people traditionally write complaint letters, pay petition visits or dial hotlines to report corruption and other misconduct by officials.
Institutional changes needed
Experts said the dismissal of Liu, a ministerial-level official, marked a significant achievement in China's anti-corruption campaign. However, they noted that plenty of efforts should be made to improve the real-name reporting system.
Ren Jianming, a professor of public management with the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, called for legislation to protect the rights of whistleblowers who fear retaliation from powerful officials.
Renmin University's Zhou likened anonymous whistleblowing to trudging along a mountain road and real-name whistleblowing to driving on a highway.
"If the highway is safe, no one would take a chance on the rugged mountain road," she said.
In addition, the government needs to reassure the public with more reliable law enforcers, according to Ren. "Only when the public fully trust the disciplinary agency and believe it will spring into action upon their reports, will they dare to blow the whistle using real names," he said.
Ren also suggested that experience could be drawn from Hong Kong's anti-corruption commission, 70 percent of whose clues leading to investigations come from real-name whistleblowers.