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Austerity comes to China: No more shark fin soup at official banquets

The Chinese government has decided to ban shark fin soup at official receptions, the New York Times reports.  For decades, environmentalists have lobbied to end the practice of eating shark fin soup, popular in China and other parts of Southeast Asia, because of the toll it takes on endangered shark species. 

However, the decision, lauded by shark protection groups, was not driven by conservation concerns but by concern about the appearance of state-sponsored opulence, according to Chinese state media. The Chinese GSA announced on Tuesday the decision to ban the delicacy in order to avoid the appearance of government waste.

Of course, the move is more gesture than substance: party officials continue to enjoy the spoils of office in the form of privatization deals for family members and closed bids for government contracts. This latest announcement follows a series of moves in a broader campaign to reduce perceptions of inequality, including a 2011 ban on the use of the word "luxury" in advertising.

The impact the ban will have on government balance sheet remains unclear; Although China is known to be the largest consumer of shark fin soup, no figures were released on government-specific soup expenditure. 

TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images)

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