China issued new rules requiring officials in government and state companies to report everything from personal assets to the business activities of spouses and children, in a renewed attempt to quash endemic corruption Beijing sees as a threat to its rule.
The regulations went into effect Sunday and expand on similar guidelines released in April governing senior Communist Party officials. Now mid-level officials and nonparty members must comply, reporting even on changes in marital status and the whereabouts of relatives living abroad.
Punishment for failing to do so can range from a public reprimand to dismissal.
Ordinary Chinese frequently complain about official corruption and the Communist leadership recognizes it is a major threat to political stability. The regulation appears designed to prevent officials from hiding illicit income under the names of spouses, former spouses or other close family members.
Critics say graft is too deeply ingrained in the system and can't be solved with regulations. Some have called for independent bodies to fight graft.
"Many officials have children, spouses or relatives who invest in companies or are involved in business projects. This happens all the time. What can you accomplish by requiring people to report it? Even if they report it, it's still legal under current laws," said Yang Yang, a professor in the Politics and Public Management Institute at the China Politics and Law University.
He said the government was trying to show its efforts in combating corruption, but that the new regulation would have limited effects. Yang said he was also considered a midlevel official and has had to make similar disclosures about his personal assets in the past.
"You filled it out on your own and nobody would check the declarations," he said. "It's very rare to find a person who will fill it out honestly."
Under the new rules posted on the central government website, officials must report information including details about property and investments, and the business activities of spouses and children.
They must also report the whereabouts of spouses or children living abroad and whether children are married to foreigners, including people from Hong Kong or Taiwan.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Beijing considered publicizing the personal assets of government officials, Yang said. But they dropped the idea after a study in two provinces showed that 90 percent of provincial-level officials had assets of more than 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million), he said.
Earlier this year, China's top prosecutorial office said 4,000 officials have fled overseas with as much as $50 billion in stolen government funds during the country's economic boom over the past three decades. Many went to the U.S. and Australia, and were able to launder money, buy real estate and obtain fake IDs through criminal gangs, according to the Supreme People's Procuratorate — the top prosecutor's office in China.
China has a mixed record of cracking down on corruption, but when it does the punishments are often severe. The director of China's food and drug agency was executed three years ago for approving deadly fake medicine in exchange for cash.
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