The 5 Strangest Targets of Xi Jinping's Anti-Corruption Campaign

In the aftermath of the Bo Xilai scandal, the Communist leadership in China has scrambled to push back against the party's reputation of widespread corruption. Once known for lavish banquets and bribery so widespread that it propped up whole luxury markets, the party is taking on a wide range of reform efforts, some of which have been commendable and effective. But it has also been aiming at some odd targets -- with this week's ban on mooncakes, a popular pastry, being a prime example.

Here are some of the strangest parts of Xi's anti-corruption campaign.

1) The Mooncake Ban

As mentioned above, mooncakes are just the latest casualty in an anti-graft campaign that Xi Jinping pledged would take on "tigers and flies" -- meaning, wrongdoing by leading officials and smaller, more commonplace shows of corruption. Beijing banned officials from using public funds to buy the delicacy, which are popular during the Mid-Autumn Festival. With consumers spending 15 billion yuan on mooncakes in 2011, some analysts are projecting the ban might hurt holiday sales. Still, the case of mooncakes feels like a "fly" rather than a "tiger."

2) Orders to Carpool

In recent years, microblogging sites have spurred massive public outrage over perceptions of political corruption. One such microblog site, "Anti-Official Cars Extravagance," captured the anger of the Chinese public over the sleek, expensive black cars that have become identified with Communist party officials. The Wall Street Journal reported in February on a "soft ban" on government purchases of foreign-made luxury cars. To instantly crack down on the perception that the cars inspire, the military and other government agencies have ordered delegates to carpool when arriving in Beijing -- a couple notches down from the red carpets and banquets that used to herald their arrivals. One top military official reportedly told the People's Liberation Army Newsletter, "Car-pooling feels so good because it provides a way to bond and chat with each other while saving money and increasing efficiency."

3) Military License Plates

The Communist Party and the Chinese military have enjoyed a historic relationship ripe for abuses of power, and military license plates have often served as the currency of that special relationship. Officials are known for handing them out as perks or bribes, allowing recipients to openly flout traffic laws and avoid toll fees. In tandem with the restrictions on car purchases, a new policy that took effect on May 1 placed the license plates under stricter control and outright banned them on luxury vehicles -- speaking, perhaps, to the anti-corruption campaign's particular responsiveness to the most conspicuous shows of graft.

4) 5-Course Meals (4 Courses Are Still OK)

Immediately after entering office, Xi instituted a frugality measure that forbade more than four courses (plus a soup) at banquet meals for Party officials, a significant downgrade from the usual 10-course affairs. Luxury items were ordered off the menu, too, leading to delegate complaints about no longer having meat at breakfast or seafood at banquet meals. Such belt-tightening, in addition to endeavoring to diminish public perceptions of Communist Party corruption and extravagance, has had a significant impact on luxury seafood suppliers in China and Hong Kong. Sales of shark fin, for example, which are a key ingredient in a pricey soup once common at banquets, are down 70 percent, according to Ministry of Commerce data.  Abalone and bird's nest, other former staples of extravagant banquets, are facing similar downward pressure.

5) Moutai (liquor)

Moutai, a luxury brand of clear, sorghum-based alcohol, has been known for years as a staple of lavish government banquets in China, so much so that Wen Jiabao proposed slashing the budget for it even before anti-corruption reforms moved to the fore of the presidential agenda. Ubiquitous in high-flying circles, the liquor brand became known as the only Chinese brand favored by the country's millionaires. An order issued by the Central Military Commission before Christmas in 2012, however, ordered avoidance of representative expenses like lavish banquets and specifically mentioned Moutai. That order's results were seriously felt when the stock price of the alcohol tumbled at the end of last year.

Much of the criticism leveled at Xi Jinping's anti-corruption crusade has called it unserious or cosmetic. It's hard not to agree: When you compare efforts to legislate mooncake gifts with the relative disregard given to, say, reforming the court system or introducing comprehensive proposals to monitor gifts or assets, it seems there are a lot of half-hearted efforts and little real impact.


Counting the Votes for Syria

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution this afternoon to authorize the use of U.S. military force against Syria. The resolution will be voted on by the full Senate next week, but since before this afternoon's committee decision, politicians and commentators have been trying to read the tea leaves on how the vote will go. And unlike on so many other issues, this vote probably will not follow party lines.

Whip counts by the Washington Post, Think Progress, CNN, and others have been shifting over the past day or so. The Post, for instance, moved Sen. John McCain from their "Against military action" column (he'd been placed there for saying earlier in the week that he didn't support the president's plan as proposed) to "For military action" after his SFRC vote this afternoon. Still, all the tallies so far leave about 300 of the House's 435 members unaccounted for, making them only modestly instructive.

The 10-7 committee vote this afternoon, however, may be a preview of next week's vote. Interventionism makes for strange bedfellows: McCain and fellow Republicans Bob Corker and Jeff Flake joined seven Democrats in support of the resolution, while Democrats Tom Udall and Christopher Murphy voted against it along with Republicans Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts voted "present."

The latest -- but still early -- forecasts for the full Senate show signs of a similar split. This was the Post's count as of this afternoon:

The coalition between the interventionist wings of the Republican and Democratic Parties stands in sharp contrast with what occurred in the British Parliament's vote last week. On August 29, the House of Commons split nearly along party lines: The entire Labour Party stuck together, as did much of the governing coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. But a handful of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted against the motion -- and the efforts of their prime minister -- sinking David Cameron's proposal for a British role in a Syrian intervention, 272-285.

The vote next week will likely involve a greater commingling of political parties than in Britain. But, in keeping with the parliamentary outcome, whether or not President Obama's proposed strikes move forward will probably be decided by a very narrow margin.

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