China intellectuals urge officials to reveal wealth

ANTI-GRAFT MOVEMENT::Following the recent CCP leadership transition, many Chinese are hopeful that a drive against corruption will help clean up the country

Reuters, BEIJING

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 5

About 65 Chinese academics, lawyers and human rights activists have signed an open letter demanding that top members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reveal their financial assets, saying it is the most fundamental way to solve corruption.

The letter will be presented to parliament when it meets for its annual session in March, according to CCP-run Global Times newspaper.

Petitions to China’s parliament are usually ignored. However, the public denunciation of corruption underscores the top challenge facing Chinese Vice President and new CCP Secretary-General Xi Jinping (習近平), who has himself warned that if corruption is allowed to run wild, the party risks major unrest and the collapse of its rule.

The letter calls on the 205 newly named members of the party’s Central Committee to divulge their personal wealth.

The call follows a stream of scandals involving party members.

“This is the first step in fighting corruption,” Hu Jia (胡佳), a prominent rights activist who signed the letter, said by telephone.

“These 205 are the highest-level officials in China,” said Hu, whose movements are restricted because of his rights activities and who was confronted aggressively by police as he spoke to reporters after venturing out of his home.

“They are the ones with the greatest risk of being involved in corruption, so we are calling on them to take the lead,” Hu said.

The letter has drawn more than 1,000 signatures of support from members of the public, and more will be collected up until it is sent to parliament, the Global Times said.

The year’s biggest corruption scandal, involving disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai (薄熙來), overshadowed the run-up to the leadership transition.

The scandal was followed by several reports by the foreign media on the wealth of some top leaders, including Xi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), that have embarrassed and angered the party.

Other signatories of the letter saw the leadership transition as a chance to make a push against graft.

“It’s a good chance to create a new atmosphere,” said Hu Xingdou (胡星斗), a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “China is vigorously fighting corruption, and to fight corruption, the most important thing is to establish a modern system, a system that makes officials’ assets public.”

Liu Xiaoyuan (劉曉原), a human rights lawyer and adviser to dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), said the new leaders must set an example.

“Appeals for disclosing the assets of officials have already been going on for years and many people have high expectations of the new leadership,” Liu said. “This must start with the top echelon.”

However, Liu acknowledged that the letter might just be ignored.

“The National People’s Congress has been discussing legislation on disclosing assets for more than 20 years, but still there is no outcome,” he said.

Wang Quanjie (王全杰), a professor at Yantai University, was more optimistic. A former delegate to parliament, Wang had proposed many times that parliament make officials reveal their assets, but to no avail.

However, he said last month’s congress had given him hope.

“I was genuinely inspired by the determination of the new leadership to combat graft,” Wang said.

“I’m optimistic that the current situation shows new actions are imperative,” he said. “Corruption has been very serious and if these problems remain unsolved, the Communist Party’s leadership position will be jeopardized.”