China clamps down on abuses by 'military' drivers

BEIJING (AFP) - China will this week clampdown on a widely-abused system of privileges for drivers of military vehicles as Beijing steps up its efforts to stamp out corruption and excess in official life.

Owners of military vehicles have until Tuesday to replace their licence plates as part of a new registration system which aims to prevent unauthorised drivers from being given preferential treatment on the roads.

The ministry of defence said a range of luxury cars and SUVs would also be banned from using military plates, including models from Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, Land Rover and Audi.

The sight of luxury cars with military licence plates passing through red lights is common in China, where owners are also exempt from paying fees for parking or toll roads.

Many drivers also flout other traffic regulations and fill up with free petrol.

There has been widespread leasing of military plates or use of fake ones, which are considered a symbol of privilege by many in China, where the widening wealth gap and excesses of corrupt officials are a widespread source of anger.

"The new policy is about more than just replacing licence plates," a commentary by the state-run Xinhua news agency said late on Sunday.

"It is intended to reduce abuses of power and the neglect of duty, as well as improve public trust in the military and maintain social harmony.

"The military must tackle corruption on wheels before it can improve its ability to safeguard the country."

Analysts claim authorities can do little to stop the unauthorised leasing of military vehicles to rich businessmen.

But Xinhua said the public would be able to scrutinise the use of the new plates - and "expose their misuse" - through the Internet, although it gave no further details.

State media said pictures had been posted online of limousines with military licence plates.

Authorities will also aim to identify fake plates by using high-tech monitoring equipment, the ministry said.

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

Mr Xi, who is also the top military official as chairman of the Central Military Commission, said corruption could "kill the party" that has ruled China and its army since 1949.

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