China warns officials: No wine at lunch, no expensive wedding banquets

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BEIJING (AP) — Lavish weddings, fancy holidays and lunchtime wine on the public dime were among transgressions detailed Tuesday that led China’s ruling Communist Party to discipline 2,290 officials so far this year in a frugality campaign aimed at addressing public anger.

The party’s disciplinary arm, quoted in official state media, provided eight examples of such breaches, including a party chief in a township in Hebei who was stripped of his post for holding an extravagant wedding for his daughter and receiving around 1 million yuan ($163,000) in cash and gifts.

Party officials, led by President Xi Jinping, hail their efforts to eradicate extravagance among cadres as evidence that they are serious about cracking down on the graft that plagues them at every level. But while it might seem as though many officials have been admonished this year as part of the campaign, the number is only a small drop in China’s ocean of 85 million party members.

Official reports have also not indicated the seniority of the officials who were being punished, though most of the examples listed appeared to be mid- and low-level cadres. Xi has promised to target even high-level officials, who are usually seen as enjoying special protections that come with ties to the politically powerful.

One analyst said such campaigns are only of limited use because they address only the symptoms of corruption rather than focus efforts on building systematic checks on power.

“Of course these are helpful to anti-corruption efforts, but they remain only the traditional way of fighting corruption, by using campaigns and iron-fisted administrative methods,” said Hu Xingdou, a political economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “There has been no progress in developing an anti-corruption mechanism.”

Hu said such a mechanism would include requiring officials to declare their assets, allowing for greater press freedom and stronger oversight of official organs.

“There is an even greater need for work on this front,” he said.

The 2,290 officials cited were punished for violating new guidelines aimed at curbing waste, the official Xinhua News Agency cited Xu Chuanzhi, a party official, as saying. Examples cited in Xinhua’s report paint a picture of the privileges enjoyed by many government officials throughout China that are a source of public resentment.

A community leader in the central city of Wuhan who led 10 staffers on a holiday in southern Hainan paid for by government funds was given a serious warning while staffers were ordered to return the funds spent on the vacation, it said.

In central Hunan, the head of the provincial-level judicial bureau was handed a warning for hosting a massive wedding banquet for his son while 10 officials who misused police cars as part of the celebrations were also admonished.

The party issued a “serious disciplinary warning” to the party chief of Gongzhuling, a northeastern city, for drinking wine at a weekday lunch, the report said.

The campaign comes as more individuals have stepped forward to publicly accuse senior officials of wrongdoing. The allegations – publicized mainly on microblogs but carried by Chinese media – test the new leadership’s resolve to fight graft at the highest levels.

Liu Hu, a reporter with the New Express Daily newspaper, publicly accused the deputy head of China’s industry regulator, the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, of failing in his previous duties as an official in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing.

The regulator’s press office said it had no immediate comment on the report while a man who answered the phone at Chongqing’s propaganda office said he had not heard about the allegations.

(Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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