HONG KONG/BEIJING – The sustained scrutiny of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has been traumatic for many Communist Party and government officials who have grown rich on their power to dispense favors. With so much attention on their lifestyles, spending, travel, entertainment and networks of friends and colleagues, many have decided the safest course is to avoid making decisions or seek early retirement, say people familiar with the probes.
“Government officials are feeling insecure,” says Bo Zhiyue, senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore. “It has also fueled mistrust among officials. They report on each other.”
All over China, evidence suggests officials have curbed their spending. In Hong Kong, where officials and their families sparked a heady retail boom, luxury spending dropped 14.7 percent in the nine months to September, compared to the same period last year, according to a November report from Fitch Ratings.
Officials are also staying away from Macau where casino revenues have been plunging since June. Gambling income dropped almost 20 percent in November, year on year, according to Macau government figures.
Beijing has published figures that suggest Xi’s austerity guidelines are being observed. Money spent on official meetings last year dropped 53 percent, overseas trips 39 percent and vehicle purchases 10 percent, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog, said in March.
Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that officials are abandoning banqueting and karaoke comes from the sales of Shanghai-listed Kweichow Moutai Co. Ltd., China’s top seller of baijiu, the fiery liquor tossed back in rounds of toasts at gatherings. The company suffered its first ever drop in first-half profit this year. In its interim report released in August, it blamed the fall on oversupply in the sector combined with what it called a complex and changing industry environment.
Since 2012, the cost of a half liter bottle has more than halved from 2,200 yuan ($350) to about 950 yuan as the company slashes prices to prop up demand.
And there may be no let-up for officials. Unlike earlier anti-corruption campaigns that petered out after a few high-profile arrests, Xi and his anti-graft chief, Wang Qishan, appear determined to press ahead. “This is just the beginning,” Wang was quoted as saying in October by the official Xinhua News Agency.
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