China cracks down on corrupt golfing cadres

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China's ruling Communist Party signalled yesterday that it will step up its campaign against corruption amid public anger over a stream of revelations about the luxurious lifestyles of senior cadres. An anti-graft campaign has outlawed expensive banquets, visits to karaoke bars and precious gifts for senior officials. The Premier, Wen Jiabao, called yesterday for reforms that would allow more public scrutiny to address the "problem of over-concentration of power with ineffective supervision".

Speaking in Shenzhen, the booming city just north of Hong Kong, Mr Wen called for political reforms to safeguard the country's economic gains, reported the official Xinhua news agency. "People's democratic rights and legitimate rights must be guaranteed," he said.

Among generations of people brought up on struggles against capitalist running dogs and landlords, there is a strong level of mistrust about the super rich in China, but the real ire among the local populace is reserved for corrupt officials. It has become a major political issue as the privileged official classes and a new generation of hyper-rich that has benefited from the booming Chinese economy – which grew at about 10 per cent last year – creating a massive wealth divide.

Last year, China recorded its widest rural-urban income gap since 1978, and there is no sign of the gap closing. The World Luxury Association (WLA) said that by the end of 2009, total consumption of luxury goods in the Chinese market had reached £6bn, nearly 28 per cent of the world's total. An attempt by a senior Chinese police officer to have a subordinate registered as a "martyr" after he was killed by a drinking binge at an official banquet caused outrage last year. These dinners are seen as a flagrant form of corruption.

The latest target is golf. The sport, taken up with gusto by China's new rich, has been the focus of a series of corruption inquiries. Twenty government officials in Wenzhou, an entrepreneurial city in Zhejiang province, were reprimanded this month after they were publicly linked to a high-end golf club that charged 398,000 yuan (£37,000) to join – 40 times the average annual income of farmers in Zhejiang.

The scandal was triggered by an advertisement in the Wenzhou Evening News for "China's most awe-inspiring golf club" and listed the officials.

"This is just more evidence of abuse of privilege by a cadre," said Ma Lina, who works for a state-owned enterprise. "It's not abnormal, just a new dimension to official corruption."

The Wenzhou municipal party committee reprimanded the cadres, including Wang Chaojun, the city's deputy Communist Party secretary, who was chairman of the golf club. The party members were asked to leave.

The primary motivation for the building of golf links in China is to profit from the luxury villas that accompany the courses. Property prices have risen sharply, and there are fears of a property bubble.

The central government has banned construction of new golf courses because of land grabs by property developers, often with the connivance of corrupt local officials. The courses have sparked social unrest with disenfranchised farmers taking to the streets to demonstrate.

As in other countries, golf is seen as a status sport, a way to build contacts and set up deals – Not a process that sits easily with the government's crackdown on corruption.

A retired cadre, who gave his name only as Mr Jiao, said the reality was probably worse. "I'm sure these officials have more property, such as houses or cars, which is worth more than a golf club membership. Why isn't the government chasing that?" he asked.