China ready to monitor corruption

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Asset disclosure for Chinese officials is likely to be slowly phased in over time, a senior Communist Party leader said as the government grapples with the fraught task of rooting out corruption.

The comments from Wang Yang, a member of the decision-making Politburo with a reputation as a reformer, came a day after the party opened a week-long congress to install a new leadership with a call to fight corruption.

Mr Wang told reporters that the province he runs, Guangdong, is exploring methods for officials to declare their wealth and that in the future public disclosure of assets will be required of all officials.

“I believe Chinese officials, in accordance with central rules, will gradually make public their assets,” Mr Wang said after a meeting with congress delegates from Guangdong. He did not give a time frame.

His comments highlight the hand-wringing at many levels of the party over its inability to clamp down on the corruption by officials and their family members that has deepened public disgust and fed many of the tens of thousands of protests that hit China yearly.

At the congress’s opening on Thursday, President Hu Jintao warned that unrestrained graft threatened to topple the party’s continued rule. He called on the party’s 82 million members to be ethical and to stop their family members from trading on their connections to amass fortunes.

The congress itself had no public agenda on today.

Delegations met separately to discuss the lengthy report Mr Hu delivered. But in fact, most of the delegates have little say over the main agenda.

The selection of younger leaders to replace Mr Hu and his colleagues is done behind the scenes by the departing leadership, retired party elders and other power brokers.

Mr Wang’s views matter. An ally of Mr Hu’s from their days 30 years ago in the Communist Youth League, he has gone on to forge credentials as a reformer. In Guangdong, he has tried to guide the economy away from labour-intensive assembly-line processing and enacted more tolerant rules for environmental and other local activist groups that the party has mostly tried to suppress.

Mr Wang has been considered a candidate for the new leadership, the Politburo Standing Committee, though party-connected scholars say his policies and popularity have brought a backlash from conservatives, diminishing his chances.

“All party members are reformers,” Mr Wang said, brushing off a question about his prospects. “The report clearly states the goal of the party congress is to liberate thoughts, reform and open up, rally efforts and overcome obstacles. This will not change.”

On corruption, however, the party has been in need of new thinking. The party, which controls courts, police and prosecutors, has proved feeble in policing itself yet does not want to undermine its control by empowering an independent body to do so.

The idea of public asset disclosure has been batted about for years, if more loudly in recent months after several scandals.

A Politburo member, Bo Xilai, was cashiered after his wife murdered a British businessman, and he is accused of corruption and other misdeeds over two decades.

An aide to President Hu was demoted this summer after his son crashed a Ferrari he should not have been able to afford. Foreign media have also reported that family members of Mr Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, and his prime minister, Wen Jiabao, have assembled vast fortunes.

n Hundreds of Tibetans demonstrated in a western China town yesterday, calling for freedom from Chinese rule.

This latest act of protest was apparently timed to send a signal to the Communist Party elite.

The protesters, mostly secondary school students, marched through the town of Rongwo, shouting for independence and for the return from exile of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

“It was chaos this morning,” said a Tibetan painter who lives nearby.

The march came after five Tibetans set themselves on fire this week, two of them near Rongwo, in burning protests that have triggered gatherings of hundreds of people over the past few days, rights groups report.

Tibet support groups overseas have said the rise in protests in recent days is meant to highlight Tibetan unhappiness with Chinese rule as the party congress assembled in Beijing.