China intellectuals urge party leaders to disclose wealth

BEIJING - About 65 Chinese academics, lawyers and human rights activists have signed an open letter demanding that top members of the ruling Communist Party reveal their financial assets, saying it is the most fundamental way to solve corruption.

The letter will be presented to parliament when it meets for its annual session in March, according to the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper.

Petitions to China's parliament are usually ignored. But the public denunciation of corruption underscores the top challenge facing new party chief Xi Jinping, who has himself warned that if corruption were allowed to run wild, the party risked major unrest and the collapse of its rule.

The letter calls on the 205 newly named members of the party's Central Committee to divulge their personal wealth. The call follows a stream of scandals involving party members.

"This is the first step in fighting corruption", Hu Jia, a prominent rights activist who signed the letter, told Reuters by telephone.

"These 205 are the highest-level officials in China," said Hu, whose movements are restricted because of his rights activities and who was being confronted aggressively by police as he spoke to Reuters after venturing out of his home.

"They are the ones with the greatest risk of being involved in corruption. So we are calling on them to take the lead," Hu said.

A new Central Committee was named at the party's once-a-decade leadership handover last month. Xi took over as party chief and will become president at the National People's Congress, or parliament, in March.

The letter has drawn more than 1,000 signatures of support from members of the public, and more will be collected up until it is sent to parliament, the Global Times reported.

The year's biggest corruption scandal, involving former high-flying politician Bo Xilai, overshadowed the run-up to the leadership transition.

Bo was expelled from the party and faces possible charges of corruption and abuse of power, while his wife was jailed for involvement in the murder of a British businessman.

The incident was followed by several reports by the foreign media on the wealth of some top leaders, including Xi and Premier Wen Jiabao, that have embarrassed and angered the party.

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