Ex-top official says China's Xi not serious in tackling graft

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese President Xi Jinping is not serious about fighting corruption and is more intent on maintaining his position than curing the country's "sickness", the most senior official jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests said on Friday.

Mr Bao Tong, the most trusted aide to purged reformist Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, characterised the new president as no different from Mao Zedong - the leader who led China into the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

It was his harshest criticism to date of Mr Xi, who many liberals and intellectuals are hoping will emerge as a reformer, like his father, Xi Zhongxun, a liberal-minded former vice premier.

"I can only see one thing: he has continued suppression," Mr Bao, 80, told Reuters in his apartment in Beijing.

"Besides that, I can't see what else he wants to do. So I think he probably just wants to do one thing: to maintain his stability, maintain his position."

Mr Bao was once a political high-flyer, and as secretary to the Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee held a rank equivalent to a cabinet minister.

He was jailed for seven years for his opposition to the decision to send in troops to crush the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.

He remains an outspoken government critic and is kept under close watch.

His criticism reflects fading optimism among Chinese intellectuals that Mr Xi will launch political reforms.

Mr Xi, who took office in March, has made fighting pervasive corruption a central theme of his administration, warning the problem is so severe it could threaten the party's survival.

The party has targeted everything from the use of government cars to liquor served at official banquets, and vowed to spare no one in its efforts to fight graft.

But Mr Xi's stability-obsessed government has also detained at least 16 activists after they demanded officials disclose their wealth.

"I think this means he does not want to fight corruption," Mr Bao said of Mr Xi.

"Such anti-corruption efforts are just for looking good, for fooling the ordinary people.

"If he really wants to fight corruption, why doesn't he dare disclose the assets of officials? Why does he want to arrest citizens who are requesting officials to disclose their assets?" Mr Bao said the president was "taking the road of Mao Zedong".

"That is, he's not prepared to solve the problems in China.

All he wants to do is put on some make-up. He does not want to treat the sickness, have surgery or take medicine."

Few high-level officials have been caught in the dragnet and the party has shown no sign of wanting to set up an independent graft-fighting body that could challenge the party's authority and reveal embarrassing secrets to the public.

On Thursday, state media said the party had expelled a former deputy head of the top planning agency and will prosecute him for corruption, following lurid accusations of bribery and sexual impropriety.

The trial of one-time high-flying politician Bo Xilai, on charges of corruption and abuse of power, is also expected to start this month as authorities attempt to close the door on China's biggest political scandal in decades.

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