China targets 'naked officials' in anti-graft war

China targets 'naked officials' in anti-graft war
Chinese President Xi Jinping
PHOTO: Reuters

China's anti-graft campaign has begun to target two types of offenders: "naked officials" who have moved their families and often ill-gotten assets overseas, and corrupt officials working at state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

But the detention or demotion of a growing number of officials has also triggered the airing of concerns over the graft-busting drive and whether it is hurting the leadership's reforms to scale back the state's role in the markets.

Signs that "naked officials" - or luo guan in Mandarin - are being targeted could be seen in the way that Dongguan city in southern Guangdong redeployed 127 of them presumably to less important roles last month.

Late last month, southern Guangzhou's deputy party chief Fang Xuan also chose to step down even though he was just months shy of the official retirement age of 60.

The reason for his move was reportedly an internal order in February from the Chinese Communist Party's Central Organisation Department to "naked officials" to "bring back your family, or retire early".

"Naked officials" have long been a problem for China. Up to 18,000 are believed to have fled the country between the mid-1990s and 2008 with more than 800 billion yuan in stolen assets, based on a 2011 estimate by the People's Bank of China.

Public pressure against such officials remains high. A recent straw poll of some 1,000 Chinese showed that 75 per cent believe luo guan should not be in high positions and 49 per cent believe these officials tend to be corrupt.

As for SOE officials, some 31 from wide-ranging sectors such as energy, telecommunications and property have been detained for disciplinary reasons this year, according to media reports. The toll has already matched the 31 nabbed during the whole of last year.

The highest-profile casualties include China Resources chairman Song Lin and China Travel Service (HK) chairman Wang Shuaiting.

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