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Corruption has always been addressed by Premier Wen Jiabao in his annual address to the National People’s Congress, but this year he went much further than before by stating that corruption threatened the rule of the CCP.

In his speech on 5 March 2010, the Premier affirmed that the battle against graft would be a critical task of his government. “We will give high priority to fighting corruption and encouraging integrity. This has a direct bearing on the firmness of our grip on political power”’

He warned against extravagance, officials abusing the use of official cars or making private trips abroad using public funds. Construction and extravagant remodeling of Party and Government office buildings will be strictly controlled. He even urged the leading cadres – especially high-ranking ones – to declare their assets and those of their spouses and children. This echoes the “Sunshine Law” which was opposed last year by the CCP’s Central Committee.

Chinese media and netizens regularly complain about corruption which is a leading public concern. 17 of officials of vice-ministerial rank or above were charged with corruption in 2009: a record number.
“We will promote transparency of administrative affairs, improve regulations for transparent governance and administrative review, create conditions for the people to criticize and oversee the Government, let the news media fully play their oversight role, and exercise power openly.”

The need for transparency has previously been stated, but the direct appeal to the media to act as watchdogs “and exercise power openly” is significant. How far the media will be allowed freedom remains to be seen, in the light of past experience, such as the reporting of defective construction in Sichuan province in 2009 at the time of the earthquake. Wen Jiabao is, of course, right that the media – and I would add NGOs – are essential tools in fighting corruption. The Premier’s remarks also reveal his concern over the risk to social stability.

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