Smuggling consumer goods into China: when is a crime not a crime?

Smuggling and tax evasion on behalf of a collective organization is just as criminal as committing such offences for personal gain.

That seems to be the principle the Chinese authorities are trying to establish in bringing two officials of a state electronics trading corporation to court.

Shenzhen, a special economic zone adjoining Hong Kong, has long had the reputation of being a hotbed of smuggling and other illegal activity. The two officials were respectively acting party secretary and an officer of the storage and transport division of the Shenzhen branch of the China electronics technology import and export corporation.

The two are accused of having smuggled into the country from Hong Kong electronic goods totalling more than 23 million yuan (about $11.5 million) between December 1980 and September 1981. They also bought and sold foreign exchange amounting to $16 million, according to the Peoples Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper.

They also illegally imported more than 150,000 tapes, ''of which a considerable portion were decadent songs from Hong Kong and Taiwan, severely polluting our social atmosphere,'' the newspaper said. And they are also accused of colluding with Hong Kong businessmen to import substandard television sets with defective or missing parts. These were distributed nationwide, but could not be sold, and therefore piled up in warehouses, causing losses to the organizations which stocked them.

Now the two men have been dismissed from their jobs, expelled from the Communist Party, and charged with criminal offenses. The Peoples Daily quoted a customs official as saying that the amount both of tax evasion and of smuggling, and the wickedness of the means used, were of a scale rarely seen since the founding of the Peoples Republic.

The Peoples Daily considers that the case has brought to light a typical way of thinking. In short, the interest of the state is confused with the interest of the particular organization in which one works. The two officials concerned did not enrich themselves, at least not to anywhere near the degree they are accused of cheating the state.

Presumably their illegally gotten gains went to raise worker bonuses and otherwise benefit their own organization, although this is not explicitly stated. The People's Daily concludes that the struggle against economic crimes is far from being finished and that ''all comrades will certainly exert themselves with redoubled vigor'' to carry the fight through to the end.

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