Since Chinese President Xi Jinping came into power four months ago, he has publicly made war with the widespread corruption among Chinese officials. He’s banned lavish banquets, gift-giving, and overseas sightseeing tours. Some provinces have even monitored government cars to ensure proper use.
But last week, the true nature of the government’s view of corruption revealed itself when authorities arrested four anti-corruption activists calling for officials to publicly disclose their personal wealth.
“More than just restricting people’s eating habits, we need to restrain the party’s power, otherwise this is just political farce,” Wu Qiang, a political science professor at Tsinghua University, told The New York Times. While the anti-corruption campaign looks to cut back on public displays of wealth, people in power are still able to amass huge fortunes.
The government’s move to curb corruption comes as Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly upset with the amount of corruption at every level of Chinese government, especially with the cases of high-level officials like Bo Xilai and Li Jianguo. China is ranked 80th out of 176 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, more corrupt than most developed countries.
Officials are no longer allowed to hold taxpayer-financed banquets or give “gifts” in the form of Louis Vuitton bags. The government has set up regulations for workshops, requiring officials to sleep in school dormitories, eat at school cafeterias, and write reports without secretaries. Military officers attending the National People’s Congress were asked to share hotel rooms and carpool.
The effects of the campaign are felt in the luxury brand industry. Sales of first-class plane tickets decreased by 10 percent, while fancy restaurants, high-end alcohol and cigarette brands, and five-star hotels have been hurt by frugality measures.
In Guangzhou, the municipal government started monitoring government-owned vehicles in 2011 by installing GPS units in each of its nearly 8,500 cars. According to theChina People’s Daily, the GPS records the driver’s identity, routes, destination, and speed. Since then, the average mileage reduced from 1,100 miles to 802 miles in 2012, Mei Hequing, spokesperson for the Guangzhou Commission for Discipline Inspection, told the newspaper. The reduction saves the government $805 per vehicle per week.
Officials at six stations monitor the vehicles, and are alerted if one is parked for more than two hours near a golf course, hotel, sauna, or karaoke bar, according to the article. Anyone who violates the regulation is punished severely.
Chinese citizens have been encouraged by the changes in officials’ lifestyles, but as activists try to join in the fight against corruption, the government has responded with suppression.
On March 31, a small group of anti-corruption activists gathered in Beijing holding up signs that read “Unless we put an end to corrupt officials, the China Dream will remain a daydream,” and asking the officials to publicly disclose their personal wealth. Chinese police quickly broke up the gathering, arresting four of the protestors.
Activists also want officials to reveal whether they hold foreign passports, which are often used to help officials flee the country with their large fortunes, according to The New York Times. Earlier attempts to pressure officials to disclosing their wealth have also been quashed: An online petition has been censored, while activists across the country have been arrested for collecting signatures.
Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, told The New York Times the government’s actions aren’t lining up with its rhetoric.
“When officials see citizens arrested for calling for a law that would require officials to disclose their assets, it doesn’t exactly send the message that the party is serious about fighting corruption.”