A big box painted bright red will be the first thing many delegates notice as they check into their hotels for the annual session of China’s national legislature this week and next.
The piece of furniture is there for people to drop reports on any lawmakers and policy advisers deemed to violate President Xi Jinping’s guide for official conduct. The only people with keys are inspectors deployed for the sessions of the National People’s Congress and its advisory body to catch out misbehavior such as boozy banquets or lighting up in hotel conference rooms.
Those opinion boxes, installed for the first time this year, reflect the new degree of scrutiny Chinese delegates face as Xi presses ahead with campaigns against corruption and extravagance that already snared a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, retired high-ranking generals and hundreds of lower-level officials. Yesterday, in his speech at the opening meeting of the NPC, Premier Li Keqiang promised to “eradicate the breeding grounds of corruption.”
The strictness and push for austerity have been kicked up to a new level, according to delegates. Wang Ming, a professor at Tsinghua University and a member of the NPC advisory body that’s meeting in Beijing at the same time, said he and his fellow delegates stopped going out for dinner altogether this year.
“We just take a stroll nearby the hotel after having an in-house supper,” Wang said in an interview.
Smoking, commonplace in the previous sessions, is done in secret, if at all, according to Wu Jiang, director of China National Peking Opera Company and another member of the advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“The biggest change I observe is no delegates smoke in public now,” said Wu. “I haven’t seen anybody falling asleep during the meeting at this year’s session, either.”
Xi outlined his eight-point austerity code for official conduct after he took power in November 2012 that banned expensive meals and red-carpet receptions, curtailed official travel and even barred vacuous speeches. At the last two legislative meetings, luxury banquets and ostentatious floral arrangements were banned and some delegates were asked to car-pool and share hotel rooms.
This year, delegates are to rely on buses to ferry them to important meetings, according to NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying. The official China News Service quoted Cui Yongyuan, a former state television anchorman and a CPPCC delegate as saying even tea bags had been removed from bedside tables.
“This shows we delegates can still participate in political discussion even now we need to spend our own money to buy fruits and bottled water,” Cui said, according to China News Service.
Those delegates who fail to attend discussions without a good reason will also be subject to disciplinary measures, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Previously, some delegates were caught skipping sessions to handle personal affairs or business matters.
Premier Li Keqiang pledged in his annual work report yesterday to take action against bureaucratic inertia. Those officials “who are lazy and lacking in action” should be exposed and held accountable, he said.
“The ultimate truth is the simplest, those with power must not be capricious” said Li.