Retired China military told to 'return houses' in crackdown

BEIJING - China has told retired military officers to return non-essential public housing after an investigation found "irregularities", state media said Sunday, as Beijing steps up efforts to stamp out official corruption and excess.

Abnormalities were revealed in an inspection into "housing and infrastructure construction" that began last year as part of a wider crackdown into corruption in the Chinese military, Xinhua news agency said.

It also said the new measures were endorsed by the chairman of China's Central Military Commission, President Xi Jinping, who has launched a much-publicised war on graft since taking office last year.

They will involve officers and their families only being allowed to "occupy one public housing unit in a single city, and its size must be appropriate for the official's rank," Xinhua said, citing a military circular that appeared in Friday's People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper.

"Officials were ordered to give back extra properties if they have more than one military-owned apartment or their combined size exceeds the allowance for their ranks," the news agency added.

Families of deceased officers were also being told to leave military properties if they already owned housing, Xinhua added.

China last year launched a crackdown on a widely-abused system of privileges for drivers of military vehicles. Cars with military licence plates receive a range of benefits driving on Chinese roads, such as not having to pay toll fees.

Observers said the military clampdown stemmed from systematic abuse of privileges by some officers, who illegally occupied houses or exchanged licence plates for favours.

"(The circular) admitted some retired officials have failed to hand over extra public housing and official cars, which has 'hampered the overall progress of the work'," Xinhua said.

Welfare and bonuses will be suspended for officials not complying with the measures, Xinhua said, but there was no mention of further punishments for those who occupied houses or abused the licence plate system.

President Xi has made fighting corruption a top priority, and urged the ruling Communist Party to "oppose hedonism and flamboyant lifestyles".

He said corruption could "kill the party" that has ruled China and its army since 1949.

However, his high-profile anti-graft campaign has been criticised in some quarters for a lack of transparency and for not introducing systemic reforms.