The Chinese government has intensified its drive against corruption, with the focus increasingly on officials and Communist Party members who have taken advantage of their positions to try to enrich themselves.
The official People's Daily today carried on its front page the most extensive high-level pronouncement on the corruption issue to date, in the form of a speech made at the end of February by Bo Yibo, a top Communist Party official in charge of a three-year party rectification campaign.
Bo's remarks were reported earlier in condensed form. Today's extensive version emphasized the need to counter "unhealthy tendencies" and strengthen the morale and discipline of party members.
Over the past two weeks, the growing campaign against corruption has gained public endorsements from the highest levels. Last Saturday, the People's Daily gave front-page prominence to a March 7 speech by China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, in which he spoke out against the use of state funds for illegal gains and other corrupt practices.
Bo, a senior aide to Deng, and other officials now publicly acknowledge that, partly as a result of opportunities opened up by the recently instituted economic reforms, such abuses as profiteering, currency speculation and the misuse of state funds have become widespread. The changes are designed to increase productivity through market-oriented incentives and greater competition in economic activities.
Some analysts are concerned that the new emphasis on countering corruption could lead to a slowdown or even a reversal of the process.
But western diplomats seem to believe that the process will go forward. They say the reformers in the Chinese leadership, including Deng, are speaking out to make the anticorruption drive "their issue."
The point would be to keep the initiative away from highly placed critics who point to corruption as an inevitable outcome of reform and therefore argue for slowing down the pace and extent of the reforms.
Deng and several other top officials contend that the problems are not a primary but a secondary result of the program and that they can be controlled.
But Deng's recent speech is also considered a sign that, for the time being, corruption has spread. The Chinese leader sounded defensive when he declared that "we certainly cannot allow our young people to be corrupted by capitalistic thinking."
Apparently responding to critics who charge that China is heading toward capitalism, Deng stressed that the ultimate goal is to implement communism.
"Deng is clever," said a foreign diplomat here. "On the one hand, his rhetoric acknowledges the concerns of hard-bitten Communists. But on the other, if you look at what he's doing in concrete terms, it's anything but communism."
The diplomat asserted, meanwhile, that as long as the economic reforms were not disrupted, foreign businessmen working in China would welcome forceful moves against corruption.
"Foreigners are having more difficulties doing business, because everywhere they turn they find Chinese trying to turn a quick buck," he said.
The diplomat argued that this was the inevitable initial result of the decentralization and opening up of the Chinese economy and allowing long pent-up desires on the part of many Chinese for more consumer goods to come into play. People are taking money out of mattresses, spending more, and consuming more, he said, thus creating additional opportunities for corruption. But, in the end, refinements in the reforms are likely to control abuses, the diplomat said.
Some Chinese officials would agree. As one told a foreigner recently, "When you open the door to let some fresh air in, you inevitably let in some mosquitoes."
But in his major statement to party oficials on the subject, Bo made it sound as though the government was confronted with something more than mosquitoes. Bo listed eight "unhealthy tendencies" now troubling the nation's reform-minded leadership.
First on his list was the involvement of party and government officials in private businesses that they had created, sometimes using the names of relatives or friends rather than their own.
Bo also mentioned a number of other illegal practices -- among them, price and foreign currency speculation and the use of state money to pay for personal gifts and extravagant meals.
To counter such practices, he suggested that local departments and units undertake investigations and that criminals be severely punished. Bo said officials found to be misusing high positions should be ousted from office and expelled from the Communist Party. He suggested that the laws dealing with corruption be strengthened.
"It is forbidden to profiteer and acquire private benefits at the expense of the state under the pretext of reform," said Bo.
But, he said, "It is unavoidable to have some problems. As long as we keep clear-headed and deal with them earnestly, we are bound to overcome shortcomings."
The government is reported to have taken action in a number of well-publicized cases recently, closing down dozens of "trading companies" created by officials and Army men for their personal profit. But investigators have so far apparently failed to net many big fish among those abusing their power.
In some cases, the amounts of money involved appear to be small, at least by western standards. But in a poor country, the misuse of state funds, even on a limited scale, can nonetheless shock the ordinary wage earner. The Economic Daily here reported last month that the managers of a glass factory in a provincial city caused "a bad impact on the masses" by throwing themselves and some high-ranking local officials a $1,570, 16-course banquet that included such sought-after items as shrimp and sea slugs.
In addition to dealing with economic crimes and abuses, Bo touched on another subject that has troubled some officials -- a proliferation of small private newspapers, booklets and scandal sheets. Bo said many of these were done in "vulgar taste," sometimes included pornography, and "left unhealthy influences" on young people. He hinted that a crackdown may be coming against these unauthorized publications.