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Humbler Lunar New Year banquets amid China's corruption clampdown

Lavish banquets have become the next target under Chinese President Xi Jinping's clampdown on corruption this Lunar New Year.

BEIJING: In China, lavish banquets have become the next target under President Xi Jinping's clampdown on corruption this Lunar New Year.

In Beijing, the number of receptions held by government organisations has seen a marked reduction of 70 per cent, according to authorities.

However, some have found ways to get around the ban so analysts are calling for a more sustainable long-term solution.

Banquets are traditionally a highlight of Lunar New Year celebrations for many in China but this year, demand from government organisations has taken a hit.

The central government is clamping down on blatant extravagance, reducing its budget for holding annual receptions by about a third.

For government organisations, holding lavish banquets and celebrations has become taboo as well as a potential source of trouble.

Hotels and restaurants have reported an average 30 per cent drop in the pricing of their menu as they change tack to appeal to corporate customers.

"We have launched more promotions to attract different customer segments with different budgets,” said David Cui, F&B director at Grand Millennium Beijing.

“Our venue has been booked for a series of training sessions, meetings as well as product launches by big companies. This will increase our income from banquets and F&B."

Banquets, especially those of state-owned enterprises are decidedly lower key this year.

Some enterprises are even calling the banquet an exchange session or a meeting instead of a dinner or celebration. Others are also moving their gatherings to secluded high-end clubhouses located within parks.

The government has recently called for the closure of all such clubhouses that served as an alternative entertainment spot for officials.

"(These clubhouses) were built using public resources in scenic locations. They are meant for the people,” said Li Chengyan, director at Peking University’s Research Centre for Building Government Integrity.

“But the pricing is such that a meal costs anywhere between a few thousand to tens of thousands yuan. How can the masses afford that? It's a serious problem that has to be eradicated because it's brewing grievances among the masses."

This is the latest in an austerity drive over the past year, which includes banning the use of public funds on gifts such as mooncakes, firecrackers and even New Year greeting cards.

It appears superficial and over-detailed but some analysts say that is necessary to tackle the urgent issue of rising public anger that may threaten to boil over if not addressed properly.

"The masses are concerned about what goes on around them,” said Mr Li.

“Anyone can send greeting cards but when one person's greeting card costs one yuan but another's costs tens of thousands with perhaps a gold coin inserted inside then it becomes a different story.

“So I feel that given such a widespread and rampant problem, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has to consider the feelings of the masses by starting with the small issues."

Key challenges for the central government moving forward will be enforcing stricter laws and enhancing disciplinary supervision and transparency.

It seems the banquet ban may just be the beginning of that process. 

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