New Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has taken up in earnest warnings by top leaders that official corruption could doom the party, to the point of turning the issue into a crusade. Fighting graft and reining in abuse of power by officials has become a recurrent theme of his first 10 weeks in the top job. That is not entirely surprising, given that he assumed power after the biggest political scandal for many years involving disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, amid allegations that the families of senior officials had accumulated great wealth.
Soon after becoming party leader, Xi zeroed in on the root of the problem - the abuse of power and privilege by officials. "We must establish mechanisms to restrain and supervise power [which] must be made responsible [and] be supervised; violations of law must be investigated," he said.
Just this week, at a plenary session of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, he elaborated, while pledging to crack down on corrupt officials from top to bottom. Drawing an analogy between unchecked power and a tiger escaping from its cage , he said he would enhance checks and balances on their power by "confining them in the cage" of a regulatory system.
The president-to-be is saying the right things. The commission responded by announcing it would launch a five-year anti-corruption plan, with spot checks on senior officials' declared personal assets and particulars. Spot checks, however, are hardly a serious attempt to combat widespread corruption. How widespread is illustrated by the commission's focus on graft in sectors including health, education, finance, telecoms and land - a sweeping cross-section of mainland life.
Xi seems to want a stand against corruption to define his rule. If he is to succeed he must back up words about reining in official abuse of power with action that enshrines transparency and accountability. The people also increasingly expect, and the party should insist, that all officials publicly declare their assets and business interests and those of their families.
He will face fierce resistance from the powerful vested interest groups that have profited immensely from the status quo, under the cover of opacity. But meaningful progress in the fight against corruption would be good for the cause of economic and social reforms necessary for sustainable economic growth.