China's top paper warns against 'underground' extravagance

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's top newspaper warned on Wednesday that some government officials were avoiding new President Xi Jinping's graft-busting instructions to be frugal by taking banquets and other lavish displays underground, including hiding liquor in water bottles.

Since becoming Communist Party boss in November, and president in March, Mr Xi has made battling pervasive corruption a top theme of his administration, warning the problem is so severe it could threaten the party's survival.

However, despite his repeated admonitions for officials to practice frugality and stop wasting public funds, some people still have not gotten the message or are actively finding ways around it, the party's main People's Daily said in a front-page commentary.

"In some places, the use of public money for eating and drinking has switched from high-end hotels to private venues and places of business... which has become known as 'low-key luxury'," the paper said.

Cases had come to light of "saunas in farmhouses" and "maotai being put in mineral water bottles", the paper said, in reference to the fiery - and expensive - spirit traditionally drunk at banquets.

"These ways of pulling the wool over people's eyes is typical of not following instructions and not stopping what is banned," the commentary added.

This phenomenon has reminded the party of the need to strictly enclose power "in the fence of supervision" and "the cage of regulation", it said. "Such a mechanism must be a long-lasting one, in order to make corruption not only detectable, but also impossible."

While Mr Xi has also attempted to tackle corruption in the armed forces, for example by seeking to dismantle a system of privilege which has allowed the drivers of military vehicles to do as they please on the roads, he has taken few other concrete steps.

There has been little apparent progress to get officials to publicly disclose their assets, and the party has given no indication it will allow the establishment of a fully independent judicial body to tackle corruption.

As well, almost no senior officials have been fired or prosecuted for graft since Mr Xi came to power, with the vast majority of cases which have come to light involving lower level officials with little real power.

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