China 'prone to corruption,' official says

BEIJING, China - Rapid social and economic changes have made China "prone to corruption" and the ruling Communist Party faces a major challenge stamping out deep-rooted official graft, an official said Wednesday.

"We are at a stage that is prone to corruption," Wu Yuliang, a top party discipline official, told reporters in a briefing ahead of the July 1 celebration of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party 90 years ago.

"We should not lose sight of the fact that the situation remains severe and we have a daunting task in front of us."

China's leaders were determined to wipe out corruption but would do so largely through internal party policing, said Wu, vice head of the party's discipline commission.

Leaders including President Hu Jintao have long said that graft threatened the party's right to rule, but reports of large and high-level corruption cases have continued apace, while the amounts involved have skyrocketed.

Wu said the ruling party and government welcomed the "full role of the public" in supervising officials, including the media and the Internet.

But he added the government would "strengthen the administration of the Internet," an apparent reference to the routine censoring of news and information online deemed to cast the Communist party in a poor light.

"We need to guide the netizens in a way to make their reports on (corruption) cases accurate and reliable."

Wu refused to disclose information on pending corruption cases, including an investigation now under way into reported wrongdoing by ousted railways minister Liu Zhijun.

Chinese political observers and academics maintain that much of China's graft is caused by the over-concentration of power in the hands of officials and that it will be hard to curb without democratic reforms.

In 2010, the Communist Party investigated more than 139,000 cases of "disciplinary violations" - wording that refers to official wrongdoing - and punished more than 146,000 party members, Wu said.

Of those punished, only 5,373 cases were handed over to the state judiciary for criminal proceedings, he said.

The party takes the lead in punishing corrupt officials, often merely through demotions or other administrative means.