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New Communist Party Chief in China Denounces Corruption

By EDWARD WONG, BEIJING (NY Times): In his first speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s elite Politburo, Xi Jinping, the new party chief, denounced the prevalence of corruption and said officials needed to guard against its spread or it would “doom the party and the state.”

The blunt remarks by Mr. Xi were made Saturday at a meeting of the 25-person Politburo, which announced a turnover of 15 members last week during the change in leadership at the close of the 18th Party Congress, the state news media reported on Monday. Mr. Xi’s admonitions were consistent with warnings that Chinese leaders have delivered in recent years and echoed points he made in his inaugural speech last Thursday. Mr. Xi appears to want to take a populist tack in shaping his image and to push an anti-corruption drive as one of the first visible acts in his new post. Corruption is one of the issues of greatest concern to ordinary Chinese.

“In recent years, the long pent-up problems in some countries have led to the venting of public outrage, to social turmoil and to the fall of governments, and corruption and graft have been an important reason,” Mr. Xi said, according to a version of the speech posted online. “A mass of facts tells us that if corruption becomes increasingly serious, it will inevitably doom the party and the state. We must be vigilant. In recent years, there have been cases of grave violations of disciplinary rules and laws within the party that have been extremely malign in nature and utterly destructive politically, shocking people to the core.”

Mr. Xi used a Chinese aphorism – “worms come only after matter decays” – to stress his point. The phrase is often attributed to Su Shi, a scholar of the Northern Song Dynasty, and it was also cited on several recent occasions by Bo Xilai, the disgraced former party chief of Chongqing, who was felled last spring by a murder scandal and is expected to stand trial soon on criminal charges related to abuse of power. When Mr. Bo used the phrase in speeches, it was also in the context of denouncing corruption and enhancing his populist image. Ironically, Mr. Xi’s allusion to recent “grave violations” of party discipline appeared to refer in part to Mr. Bo.

Both Mr. Xi and Mr. Bo are sons of powerful Communist leaders, and Mr. Bo, a former Politburo member, was seen as a rival to Mr. Xi.

Mr. Xi also took the occasion on Saturday to underscore the need to remain true to the party’s founding ideology, and warned that some officials appeared to be heading down a wayward path in this area too.

“Faith in Marxism and a belief in socialism and communism is the political soul of a Communist and the spiritual pillar that allows a Communist to withstand any test,” Mr. Xi said. “To put it more vividly, ideals and convictions are the spiritual calcium of Communists, and if these ideals and convictions are missing or irresolute, then there is a lack of spiritual calcium that leads to soft bones.”

“In present-day life, all kinds of problems have arisen with some party members and officials, and in the end these amount to a loss of faith and spirit,” he added.

A series of scandals and revelations this year have undermined confidence in China’s leaders and cast greater scrutiny on the prevalence of nepotism and patronage at the top ranks of the party. All that comes at a time when the chorus of influential voices inside China calling for fundamental changes to the political and economic systems is rising.

The Bo Xilai scandal attracted widespread attention last spring inside China and abroad. Then Bloomberg News reported that the relatives of Mr. Xi held investments and assets worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars, and The New York Times published the results of a year-long investigation that found the family of Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, held investments and assets worth at least $2.7 billion. The Web sites of both news organizations were blocked in China around the time those stories were published.

Pu Zhiqiang, a rights lawyer, said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Xi’s speech signaled that the party would pay more attention to corruption, but he also pointed out that “every generation of leaders has mentioned that. No one would neglect paying attention to the problem of corruption. It’s common sense. The crux of the matter is how to implement anti-corruption measures.”

Last Thursday, the party announced that the new head of its anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, was Wang Qishan, a former vice-premier with deep experience in the finance sector. Mr. Wang is now the sixth-ranking party official and is on the seven-man Standing Committee of the Politburo. (In other important appointments, the party announced Monday that Meng Jianzhu, a Politburo member, will take charge of the party’s Central Politics and Law Commission, which oversees security and the courts, and Zhao Leji, also on the Politburo, will be the head of the Organization Department, which oversees personnel issues.)

There are those who say that relying on the anti-corruption commission and a non-transparent process to ferret out and punish offending officials is not the right way to set the party straight. At a seminar in Beijing last Friday that was attended by liberal scholars and intellectuals, Chen Youxi, a prominent lawyer and former official, stressed that point.

“Our present approach to fighting corruption basically has increasingly relied on turning the legal authorities into party authorities, strengthening the Central Discipline Inspection Commission and using party oversight against corruption,” he said. “But I think this is a dead end. The more powerful the Discipline Inspection Commission has become, the more serious corruption has become, because if you depend on secretively fighting corruption, you only encourage more corruption.”

Published Date: Monday, November 19th, 2012 | 07:40 AM

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