One cannot fault the mainland leadership for not trying hard enough to combat corruption, something they admit could spell the end of the Communist Party's rule. Last week, President Hu Jintao had another go. At the annual meeting of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party's top anti-graft watchdog, Mr Hu vowed to maintain a vigorous crackdown on corruption to achieve new results and inspire people's confidence. With anger against official corruption leading to a number of bloody riots last year, he promised to widen the scope of investigations, signalling that the mainland leadership intends to nail high-level corrupt officials in high-profile cases. In an interesting development, Mr Hu stressed in the same speech that officials must uphold party unity and adhere to party discipline. The annual CCDI conference usually focuses exclusively on how to fight corruption and rarely dwells on party discipline. His remarks may reflect rising concern among the mainland leadership over the authority of the central government in a year full of politically sensitive anniversaries, including the 20th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown. Despite the strong rhetoric in Mr Hu's speech, the mainland leadership has offered no new ways to fight corruption. At first glance, the central government has tried harder than any other to fight corruption, in terms of regulations and the number of anti-graft departments. The CCDI is the party's main anti-graft department, boasting sweeping powers to investigate and indefinitely detain officials suspected of involvement in corruption. In addition, both the Ministry of Public Security and the People's Procuratorate have their own anti-graft agencies and the government has also set up a high-level corruption prevention bureau. Moreover, the mainland appears to have the most detailed rules on regulating behaviour of officials, including such ones that define the quantity of food officials can order for each meal. Those measures have no doubt achieved some results. But the fight against graft remains an uphill battle, as Mr Hu admitted last week. 'We should be fully aware that the fight against corruption needs long-term, complicated and tough efforts,' he said. One of the biggest problems is that the leadership still clings to the long-standing belief that the party can police itself by strengthening education and improving morality among officials. Indeed, Mr Hu last week urged unremitting education on virtue, morality and living a frugal life, and encouraged officials to practise self-discipline. But leaders have been saying this every year for the past three decades and it seems that the harder the crackdown, the worse the corruption. There are many effective and proven methods, such as an independent judiciary and a free press, that Beijing can learn from other countries. But they are unlikely to happen on the mainland in the foreseeable future. It is true that mainland media have been allowed to investigate and expose corruption and wrongdoing by low-level officials. But the leash on the media has been kept tight. To prevent the abuse of power, the government should continue to streamline the bureaucracy and allow market forces to have a bigger say in allocation of resources. But despite years of promises of drastic government reforms, progress has been very limited. There is another effective weapon left - requiring officials and their immediate relatives to declare their assets annually so that they can be properly monitored by the general public. The national rules governing the disclosure of assets have been debated for much of the past decade but have never got off the drawing board, mainly due to strong opposition from officials themselves. The central government reportedly issued two regulations in 1995 and 2001, requiring officials to declare their income, including salaries and allowances, but the measures largely failed because the information was not available to the public and, more importantly, there was no practical meaning in disclosing salaries that were widely known. That explains why a small city in remote Xinjiang caught the attention of the domestic and overseas media as well as millions of bloggers by requiring high-level officials to declare their assets every year. State media reported that Altay prefecture ordered officials to declare their annual salaries and other revenue, including income from giving lectures, writing books and gifts from organisations or individuals. This information will be available to the public. In addition, officials are also required to declare their income from the stock market, inheritance, lotteries and any fixed assets valued at more than 100,000 yuan (HK$113,500). They are also to report gifts or cash gifts given to their wives or children. But this part of the information will be withheld from the public and can be accessed only by the anti-graft officials. Judging from the overwhelmingly positive response from the media and internet chat rooms, this is a positive step. The mainland leadership should encourage other provinces and cities to follow suit. Better still, the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee should waste no time in declaring not only their own assets but those of their wives and children.