National People's Congress

Xi Jinping warns officials against colluding with businessmen

Party chief again shows importance of anti-corruption drive by warning of the temptations that emerge when colluding with businessmen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 5:52am

Xi Jinping has taken aim at the rampant collusion between mainland officials and rogue businessmen for the first time since becoming chief of the Communist Party, warning officials not to rub shoulders with businessmen.

Xi was speaking at a panel discussion with National People's Congress deputies from Jiangsu province on Friday that was closed to media outlets from outside the mainland.

But Yangtze Evening News reported that Xi told officials that they must draw a line over how far they could go in their association with businessmen.

"There are many temptations in society today and too many traps awaiting officials with special powers," he said.

"So they must follow the principle [of the Chinese saying] that 'the friendship of a gentleman is as insipid as water'."

The scale of collusion between officials and their business associates could be underscored by a widening sex scandal in Chongqing in which 11 senior government officials, including Lei Zhengfu, the Beibei district party secretary, were brought down in honey traps set up by a local developer to extract favours from officials. Amid rising public discontent with opaque governance and bureaucracy, Xi has placed official corruption firmly in his sights in a slew of stern speeches since being named party secretary in November.

The new Politburo declared new rules in December to cut lavish official ceremonies and perks, pledging to revamp the working style of senior officials.

Analysts said the curb on junkets appeared to be having an effect, judging from the latest retail figures showing growth fell to 12.3 per cent year-on-year in January to last month, from 15.2 per cent in December. The figures for January and February are lumped together, as the date of the Lunar New Year festival varies each year.

Lu Ting, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist, attributed this to a recent government campaign against extravagance and conspicuous consumption, such as officials splurging on wining and dining.

Zhou Suming, chairman of the Jiangsu King's Luck Brewery Co, a liquor producer, said the campaign had reduced consumption by government departments and civil servants.

Hu Xingdou, a professor of political economy at Beijing Institute of Technology, said Xi's ascent to the party's top post had brought a sea change in governance and raised the bar for official conduct.

"But I think we need to see a new set of laws or regulations in place to better guide officials on the boundaries of their involvement with business people," Hu said.

The party should pay special attention to conflicts of interest arising when officials become business executives at the same time, particularly in some state-owned sectors, he said.

"This is why, wherever there is a state-run enterprise, we see the rule of law is more likely to be trampled," Hu said.