China is trying to check the abuse of public resources by closing hundreds of local government lobbying offices in Beijing.
In the scramble for money from the central government, thousands of Chinese cities and local governments set up lobbying offices in Beijing that sprawled to include restaurants, hotels and corruption. Now Beijing is trying to get rid of them.
More than 600 lobbying offices have been closed, according to a list the central government posted online on Wednesday. But that’s a small fraction of the up to 10,000 that Beijing reportedly wants to close.
The very idea, floated in January and reported in the official magazine Outlook, led to complaints from local officials, who said a presence in Beijing for lobbying was needed because of China’s highly centralized decision—making process.
But to many in the public, the offices were a symbol of bloated bureaucracy and a waste of public money as they also hosted visiting officials from back home with lavish wining and dining. Last year, state media said officials leading the Beijing offices of two cities from Henan province were reprimanded after being accused of buying almost $100,000 of liquor that was later found to be fake.
Some guesthouses established by lobbying offices also have been accused of serving dual roles as so—called black jails, unofficial detention centres for petitioners who came from the provinces to take their grievances to central officials.
Wednesday’s list of closed lobbying offices did not mention black jails, or hotels or restaurants, which have in some cases been opened and supported by lobbying offices to make money and cater to clientele.
More than half the offices now closed were run by county governments, a sign of the lengths even lower—level government officials have been going to make connections in Beijing or just avoid going home.
But the office closings don’t solve the root problem, said Liu Shanying, an analyst at the state—run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“The central government is now grabbing more of local governments’ tax revenues. With less money, the local governments still have the same amount of work to do,” Mr. Liu said. “That’s why they’ve been short of funds and feeling the need to come to the capital to ask the central government for more money.”
He said the actual number of lobbying offices is far larger than the 625 closed.
“But after all, you have to solve the problem patiently step by step.”
Earlier this year, news reports said the central government wanted to close the Beijing offices of up to 10,000 county administrations, industrial zones, and local government departments in the first half of this year.
The offices now closed represented development zones, local government departments and a handful of cities.
Offices run by provinces, special economic zones and almost 300 major cities have been allowed to stay, the state—run Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Xinhua report included a warning from an unnamed official with the Government Offices Administration of the State Council, or China’s Cabinet, saying local governments were “strictly forbidden” to set up Beijing offices in any other form.
But that warning may come too late. In June, as some offices tried to avoid being closed down, Outlook magazine visited an office representing an unnamed county in the eastern province of Jiangsu that had quietly set itself up like a speakeasy, on the second floor of a Beijing fast food restaurant with no public sign.