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China's leadership focuses on transparency

| Sunday, March 17, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

BEIJING — Frugality, transparency and fairness are among the buzzwords for China's newly installed leadership.

In the final meeting on Sunday of a 12-day legislative session that concluded a once-in-a-decade power transition, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang hammered at similar messages.

Speaking at a news conference that closed the National People's Congress, Li called for a moratorium on new government offices and guest houses along with a reduction in government payrolls and official cars.

“The central government will lead by example and lower levels will follow suit,” Li told assembled reporters in the imposing Great Hall of the People on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Uncontrolled spending on lavish buildings has been a source of public outrage, especially in the provinces, which have seen some of the most disproportionate excesses.

One of the poorest counties in the eastern province of Anhui built a $45 million government building eight times larger than the White House. A remote city in the southern province of Jiangxi erected what it said was the largest mechanical clock tower in the world.

While newly retired President Hu Jintao spoke constantly about “harmony,” the new leadership seems more intent on fairness.

Xi, installed as Communist Party secretary in November, has spoken frequently about reducing official privilege.

In the final legislative session Sunday, Xi called on delegates to “resolutely reject formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance, and resolutely fight against corruption and other misconduct.”

However, the ban on new buildings was one of the few specific pledges to emerge from the session.

The legislature deferred until later this year a much-ballyhooed plan to abolish forced labor camps where people are “re-educated” without trial.

The congress also failed to move on one of the most highly touted measures, which would have required public disclosure of the assets of government officials, their spouses, siblings and children.

Most of China's top leaders come from families with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets, the result of a culture of privilege that allows relatives to parlay connections into vast wealth without explicitly breaking any laws.

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