x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Can China reform?

China's leaders heard a stern speech about corruption. But will they pay any attention?

The downfall of Bo Xilai and other recent high-profile scandals in China have demonstrated that what's wrong at the bottom in China is also wrong at the top: many officials routinely use their power unjustly, to enrich themselves.

On Thursday Hu Jintao, ending his decade as Secretary General of the Communist Party and so the country's top leader, used his farewell speech to warn that corrupt practices threaten both the party and the Chinese state. China's 1.3 billion citizens will, we think, agree, because they have few outlets for the frustration and anger generated by corrupt practices large and small.

Top leaders may live without sybaritic excess, but cannot stop their children and other relatives from cashing in on perceived influence. Just last week the New York Times reported that the family of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has amassed a commercial empire worth Dh10 billion.

The government replied by promptly censoring the paper's website in China. True, Mr Wen "voluntarily" requested an inquiry into his family's business practices, but this will be conducted behind closed doors.

Personnel changes at the top will ripple down through China's hierarchy, the point of this week's Communist Party Congress. But some things, it seems, will be much harder to change.