Beijing 'Kremlin' shows need for corruption crackdown

By Ken Xu Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-30 22:33:02

The recent revelation of a Kremlin-like luxury government complex in Beijing's Mentougou District came as a surprise to many. On the one hand, few people expected a blatant copy of the original. On the other, people were shocked at the local government's audacity in their pursuit of extravagance despite a fierce campaign against corruption.

Mentougou, located in a mountainous region in western Beijing, is one of the poorest among the 16 districts and counties in the capital. But the local government has spent, according to media reports, at least some 30 million yuan ($4.94 million) on the four buildings.

What's embarrassing is the practice of copying well-known buildings from other countries, as demonstrated in Mentougou. The complex resembles the Kremlin in Moscow with its gold domes, arched windows and white walls.

Mentougou is unfortunately not alone in manufacturing shoddy knockoff buildings. Remember the "White House" in Anhui Province? Or the English village in suburban Shanghai?

The public outrage is not only over the ridiculousness of the idea. In a county or district where officials copy foreign landmark buildings, how can people be confident their government can well manage local affairs?

At the very least, the officials have probably misplaced their priorities by erecting extravagant offices instead of raising people's living standards.

The core issue in Mentougou and many other similar cases lies in the fact that it's taxpayers' money that supports such lavish buildings. The public has every reason to suspect there's possible corruption involved.

Will anyone believe that the officials inside these buildings live a frugal lifestyle?

China's anti-corruption and anti-extravagance campaign has been going on for more than a year since President Xi Jinping became general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in late 2012 and took office as the national leader in March this year. During the past 13 months, a total of 16 ministerial-level officials and more than 20,000 civil servants were probed.

But despite the numerous decrees and regulations restricting lavish government activities and curbing waste, there are still officials who manage to sidestep the rules.

For example, Hailun county in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province was found recently to be building luxurious headquarters.

The complex consists of a 13-story main building and two five-story wings, with a total of 820 office rooms and more than 40 conference rooms! This is despite the fact that Hailun is one of the poorest counties in China.

As a matter of fact, similar efforts in the past to rein in construction of over-the-top government buildings have produced little visible effect. The battle is an uphill one, partly due to the vastness of China where the enforcement of regulations has always been a challenge.

The central government seems fully aware of this, and has ordered a new round of crackdowns to ensure the full enforcement of those detailed measures to prevent and punish misbehavior.

Over the weekend, President Xi was photographed standing in line to buy his own meal at a branch of Qing-Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop in Beijing.

The gesture sends out a strong signal that the central government will not relent in promoting frugality and cracking down on corruption and extravagance.

Ken Xu, a media commentator based in Beijing.

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