Thủ Tướng Trung Cộng Wen Jiabao bị tờ báo New York Times đăng tin là ông này có tài sản 2.7 tỷ đô la, trong khi lương trung bình của người dân chỉ có 5,600 usd một năm .
By TOM ORLIK China's reputation for clean governance has taken another nose dive. That is bad news for its growth outlook.
The latest member of the Chinese leadership to have his name tarnished: Premier Wen Jiabao. The family of the people's premier, a man who has made a name as a crusader for China's poor, is reported by the New York Times to have amassed assets of $2.7 billion, not bad in a country where per-capita financial assets averaged $5,591 at the end of 2010.
He is the latest to face such allegations. Vice President Xi Jinping's image also has been damaged by a Bloomberg report that his family has amassed vast riches. Former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai is now awaiting trial on a litany of charges, including accepting bribes. The suspicion is that it is misuse of power that has enabled the families of leaders to get rich.
Whatever the accuracy of the specific allegations—the families of Mr. Wen and some other leaders have rejected them—they are easy for people to believe in a country where officials are seen as having their fingers in the till. Some 50% of 3,177 Chinese who participated in the Pew Research Center's 2012 survey said corrupt officials were a big problem. That is up from 39% in 2008 and ranks corruption as the second-biggest problem for China, behind inflation.
Pervasive graft is an economic as well as a social concern. It could be one factor behind the major imbalance in China's economy, excessive investment and inadequate consumption. Big investment projects create opportunities for kickbacks, as shaving a percentage off the top of trillions of yuan in construction contracts can be a lucrative business. Boosting consumption doesn't.
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As bad, corruption reduces leaders' opportunity and motive to push for overhauls, which requires political legitimacy. Stories of abuse of power eat away at that. Meanwhile, tamping down state investment doesn't just cut against the bureaucratic interests of China's leaders, it also threatens family income.
At the end of the 19th century, the last empress of China decided to spend money on a marble boat for her summer palace rather than a navy. China's subsequent humiliation by Japanese warships contributed to the collapse of the dynasty.
China's current leaders aren't in that league when it comes to misallocating resources. But if political legitimacy is threatened, a smooth rebalancing of the economy will only get more difficult.
Write to Tom Orlik at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared October 30, 2012, on page C8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Image Hit for China Leaders.