Just days after Shanghai's pension fund scandal snowballed to net the top state statistician, China's president and key judicial officials took advantage of an international anti-graft conference to demonstrate their determination to fight corruption.
Altogether 67,505 government officials have been punished in China for corruption in less than four years since 2003, with more than 17,505 prosecuted and sanctioned in the first eight months of2006 alone.
Revealing the latest procuratorate statistics, Wang Zhenchuan, deputy procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, on Monday said China's anti-graft fight had made progress. "With improvements to the graft prevention system, corruption is on the decline in many sectors."
But he did not provide details of any corruption case when addressing hundreds of representatives from international anti-corruption bodies at the five-day Beijing conference that will last till Thursday.
With Chinese authorities hosting the First Annual Conference and General Meeting of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA), Chinese President Hu Jintao attended the conference opening on Sunday and delivered a keynote speech.
"We treat the fight against corruption as a priority, a pressing task that has great influence on the overall development of the country, and which affects the fundamental interests of the Chinese people, equality, justice, social harmony and stability," Hu said.
Hu's words came amid the spiraling Shanghai social security fund scandal which brought down Chen Liangyu, Party Secretary of Shanghai and a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee.
Chen is the highest ranking official to fall in corruption probes in the past decade. Late last week the high-level graft probe prompted the downfall of Qiu Xiaohua, director of the National Bureau of Statistics.
"We are stepping up efforts to improve the rule of law and create a culture of clean and honest government, while strengthening the supervision of power," Hu said at the opening ceremony of the conference.
China has set up anti-graft bureaus in procuratorates at all levels, and employs 36,000 people in its anti-corruption efforts.
The country's penal code specifies 55 crimes relating to government positions and Chinese procuratorates each year probe nearly 40,000 alleged corruption cases.
"A clean government and the rule of law are two goals China has long been pursuing," Jia Chunwang, director of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, or top prosecutor, said in the speech he delivered to the conference on Monday.
Jia said corruption, if not controlled, would undermine democracy and the rule of law and engender an increase in organized crime and terrorism.
He said his office was willing to seek international assistance in combating graft and "all kinds of cooperation are welcome provided they are effective."
Analysts said international cooperation was crucial for China which is trying to net dozens of crooked officials who fled overseas ahead of or during investigations.
Police records show that 500 people suspected of serious economic crimes, mostly corrupt officials, live at large in foreign countries. The money involved in their cases adds up to a stunning 70 billion yuan (US$8.75 billion).
Official corruption has been on the rise since China began economic reform in late 1970s. As they saw other people extract big profits from the economic boom, some ordinary Chinese started to become cynical. Materialism became a new value.
Within an imperfect legal framework, Chinese officials frequently abused their power for personal gain. They bought themselves luxurious houses, sedans, some kept mistresses, and many others put their family members and friends in lucrative businesses.
"Prevention is crucial," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, at the ongoing conference, adding that public officials should be forced to disclose their annual earnings and financial assets and governments should routinely investigate obvious discrepancies between reported income and extravagant life styles.
In addition, countries need to combat corruption with effective law enforcement. Influence peddling must be made a criminal offence, along with the abuse of official functions and illicit enrichment, he said.
He urged the establishment of a structured global monitoring mechanism to ensure that international anti-corruption commitments are being implemented.
(Xinhua News Agency October 24, 2006)