Most Chinese leaders at party congress avoid candid statements on corruption

November 9, 2012

The specter of corruption continued to hound China’s leaders Friday, the second day of a week-long Communist Party congress at which the country’s next generation of top leaders are expected to be unveiled.

At several group events throughout the day, reporters were allowed to watch party leaders discuss policy in a pre-scripted manner — mostly designed to give the party congress a veneer of democratic dialogue. 

But the veneer was shattered, in most cases, when leaders opened up the floor to questions.

Reporters inevitably tried to ask about recent corruption scandals and the lack of enforcement and strong anti-corruption regulations in China, which allows leaders and their relatives to profit off their political connections. In most cases, the questions were not answered.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, especially, has been under fire ever since a recent New York Times article said that his family controls assets worth $2.7 billion, some of it in industries that fall under Wen’s purview. Policy discussions attended by Wen and by President Hu Jintao on Friday were closed to reporters.

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 During a highly controlled news conference by the party’s powerful Organization Department, officials did not take questions on the sensitive question of wealth among leaders’ families. Instead, they talked in general terms about the need to reform and deal with corruption.

Addressing corruption after a different event, Wang Yang — a high-ranking party chief from Guangdong province known for being more candid and confident in dealing with the media than other party officials — also gave a fairly vague response.

“We are going to continue our efforts in this direction,” Wang said. “I believe that the officials in China will gradually have to publicly disclose their family assets according to the rules of the Central Committee.”

Amid a day full of generalizations, the most surprising and direct response came from Yu Zhengsheng, the current Shanghai party chief and an official many believe will land a coveted seat next week on China’s all-powerful standing committee. 

When asked about family corruption, Yu said his wife is now completely retired, which means she is not pursuing any lucrative earnings. He said his son found a job on his own, and is struggling.

“I told him one rule: He is not allowed to work anywhere in Shanghai and in any area under my jurisdiction, and do not make contacts with Shanghai officials,” Yu said.

But he also defended the party’s existing policies, saying regulations already in place — rather than individual actions like his — are keeping corruption at bay.

When asked if he would be the first to disclose his assets if the party passed some regulations suggesting it, Yu said, “It’s very easy for me to disclose, because I don’t have many assets.”

His comments drew a measure of shock, as well as nervous laughs, from Chinese reporters unused to such candor from high-level officials.

Liu Liu, Zhang Jie and Wang Juan contributed to this report.

William Wan is The Post’s China correspondent based in Beijing. He served previously as a religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent.
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