China officials slam themselves - on TV

IT WAS a made-for-television criticism and self-criticism show.

In an unprecedented move, China's state broadcaster CCTV showed top officials of Hebei province criticising "impatient" superiors even as they admitted to overspending on things like official cars and lavish dinners.

Observers noted that the programme televised on Wednesday is a first, and shows the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intensifying its "self-cleansing" campaign.

They also said other provinces might follow Hebei's lead, and that the people would dismiss such "self-criticism" sessions as a mere show, unless errant officials were also taken to task.

On Wednesday, viewers saw Hebei party boss Zhou Benshun reproaching himself for being impractical and less hard-working than before, while his subordinates criticised him for not doing more to help the poor and neglecting environmental issues.

The provincial party boss also criticised a subordinate, Qinhuangdao city's party chief.

"I feel Tian Xiangli is too hungry for success and over-eager to prove herself and impress her bosses. Such behaviour will lead us to do things that are irrelevant to the people's interests," he said.

Besides Mr Zhou, Hebei deputy party boss Zhao Yong was also shown confessing to being impulsive, and provincial governor Zhang Qingwei to being arrogant.

The criticism and self-criticism took place during three days of meetings starting on Monday to discuss how to improve the people's livelihoods. President Xi Jinping, who has pledged to clean up the CCP by ridding its ranks of bureaucracy and extravagance, attended the meetings.

Provincial propaganda chief Ai Wenli noted that Hebei "wasted" 3.3 million yuan (S$674,000) on Chinese New Year celebrations last year, while Vice-Governor Yang Chongwen said the annual budget ballooned from 253 million yuan last year to 660 million yuan this year due to a massive jump in the expenditure on official cars.

China's 25 Politburo members, including Mr Xi, held a similar session over four days in June.

Mr Xi sounded a warning when he said: "Don't think that all is fine if you pass the 'test' at such sessions. You should continue to think more deeply about how to improve people's lives."

Hong Kong-based observer Willy Lam said the purpose of the sessions is to "ensure regional leaders follow instructions from the top and consolidate Xi's power".

Many see the revival of self-criticism, common during the Cultural Revolution, as a reflection of Mr Xi's Maoist ideals.

Professor Lam said it shows "that Xi still believes in the rule of man rather than the rule of law".

Singapore-based analyst Bo Zhiyue noted Hebei's leaders were careful to admit to their shortcomings rather than to mistakes that might expose them to party discipline or criminal prosecution.

"They were praising one another in a negative way, such as how they were impatient because they were so eager to serve the people," said Dr Bo, an analyst at the East Asian Institute.

All this could backfire on the CCP, said Renmin University analyst Zhang Ming.

"The public will enjoy watching officials criticising themselves, but they won't be pleased if these officials are not punished."

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