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China bans government building projects to curb Versailles-esque excesses

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
July 25, 2013 -- Updated 0238 GMT (1038 HKT)
China's five-year ban on the construction of new government buildings is part of a larger effort by President Xi Jinping to control waste and corruption. China's five-year ban on the construction of new government buildings is part of a larger effort by President Xi Jinping to control waste and corruption.
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China's state-sponsored luxury
China's state-sponsored luxury
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China's state-sponsored luxury
China's state-sponsored luxury
China's state-sponsored luxury
China's state-sponsored luxury
China's state-sponsored luxury
China's state-sponsored luxury
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China has imposed a five-year ban on the construction of new government buildings
  • State-owned pharmaceutical company has HQ that rivals Palace of Versailles
  • New directive part of Chinese government's pledge to curb official excesses
  • Corruptions and widening wealth gap is alienating much of the population

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Some state-run enterprises in China have opulent headquarters more suited to the court of Louis XIV of France, while other local government-owned buildings even replicate the home of the President of the United States.

Clearly, in recent decades, money has been no object in the world's second biggest economy.

But Beijing's bean counters, a more socially-aware bunch in recent times, have decided enough is enough and imposed a ban on the construction of new government buildings, according to state media.

A yawning gap between rich and poor and a social media-led backlash against corruption and official excesses, has made the ruling Communist Party led by President Xi Jinping all too aware of the perils of continuing down such a corrosive path.

China wants to ban govt. construction

Opinion: Corruption as China's top priority

And so the General Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council jointly issued a directive that calls for an across-the-board halt to the construction of new government buildings, training centers or hotels in the coming five years, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The directive accuses some departments and localities of breaking building regulations when approving, and calls on all CPC and government bodies to be "frugal and ensure that government funds and resources are spent on developing the economy and boosting the public's well-being," Xinhua said.

Expensive and unnecessary renovations will also be prohibited, with only projects that "erase safety risks" or "restore office functions," allowed.

In order to let the people live comfortably, the government has to tighten its belt and cut its own spending.
Professor Wang Yukai

Ominously, the directive says officials who approve banned projects should be "harshly punished."

Perhaps the best example of the type of extravagant constructions being targeted is in northeastern China, where the state-owned Harbin Pharmaceutical Group has its main offices. The remarkable complex is modeled on the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, France and features incredible ornate hallways with crystal chandeliers and gold paneling along the walls.

Since coming to power late last year, President Xi has made corruption and excess his chief targets.

In several speeches since he officially took over the reins of the Communist Party in November, he warned that corruption could lead to "the collapse of the Party and the downfall of the state."

He has repeatedly urged officials to "build a clean government, show self-discipline and restrain their relatives and associates."

According to Xinhua, the new building ban is an important part of "building a more transparent government and strengthening ties between the CPC and the public."

"In order to let the people live comfortably, the government has to tighten its belt and cut its own spending," said Professor Wang Yukai from the Chinese Academy of Governance, in quotes carried by Xinhua.

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