Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Even the PR seems to be slipping

China's president has made loud noises about curtailing extravagant government perks. It's a popular stand. But is it more than a political speech? And is it politically relevant?

Elite in China Face Austerity Under Xi’s Rule
In the four months since he was anointed China’s paramount leader and tastemaker-in-chief, President Xi Jinping has imposed a form of austerity on the nation’s famously free-spending civil servants, military brass and provincial party bosses. Warning that graft and gluttony threaten to bring down the ruling Communists, Mr. Xi has ordered an end to boozy, taxpayer-financed banquets and the bribery that often takes the form of a gift-wrapped Louis Vuitton bag.

A Red Gate banquet is not "four dishes and a soup"
While the power of the nation’s elite remains unchallenged, the symbols of that power are slipping from view. Gone, for now, are the freshly cut flowers and red-carpet ceremonies that used to greet visiting dignitaries. This month, military officers who arrived here for the annual National People’s Congress were instructed to share hotel rooms and bring their own toiletries…

The crackdown appears to be real, as far as it goes, which may not be very far. After a year of scandal that led to the toppling of a member of the Politburo, Bo Xilai, and numerous reports of widespread official corruption, Mr. Xi’s highly public campaign seems aimed at curtailing the most conspicuous displays of wealth by people in power. He has done little to tackle the concentrations of money and power in China’s state-directed economy that have allowed numerous members of the Chinese elite and their extended families to amass extravagant fortunes.

Some analysts note that even a modest first step toward reducing corruption, a proposed regulation that would require top officials to disclose their personal assets publicly, appears to be stalled, highlighting the elite’s resistance to real change.

Wu Qiang, a political science professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, expressed cynicism about the moderation campaign, saying it distracted attention from the kinds of political reform necessary to make government more accountable and transparent.

Even so, Mr. Xi has garnered attention and some praise for his eight-point guide for official conduct, which he issued in January. Mr. Xi warned that his administration would swat both “tigers and flies” in the anticorruption drive, which he said was vital for winning back public trust.

“If we don’t redress unhealthy tendencies and allow them to develop, it will be like putting up a wall between our party and the people, and we will lose our roots, our lifeblood and our strength,” Mr. Xi said…

Mr. Xi’s campaign even has a new catchphrase, based on his vision of gastronomic self-restraint: “Four dishes and a soup.”... 

To ensure compliance, government investigators have descended on restaurants to comb through receipts in search of large tabs suggesting abusive spending. “Even the big bosses are staying away from fancy restaurants and switching their expensive European wristwatches for Chinese brands until things calm down,” said one administrator from China’s southwestern Yunnan Province…

See also: A Red Gate Banquet

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