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China Conference Highlights Corruption as Threat to Stability

In China, delegates at a conference on corruption are warning that governments need to do more to curb bribery and theft of public money, which they say threaten stability.

Experts on corruption say that left unaddressed, it adds to social inequities that can grow into public conflict.

Peter Rooke, the regional director for Asia Pacific at Transparency International, an anti-corruption group based in Berlin, points to China as an example of the corrosive influence of corruption. He says that as China's economy grows rapidly, so does the gap between rich and poor - a situation he calls a prescription for unrest.

"That inequality can be exacerbated by corruption," he said. "And certainly, if people feel that their leaders, whether it's at the local level or the national level, are effectively stealing from them, then this of course has serious political consequences."

An anti-corruption conference sponsored by the Asian Development Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development opened Wednesday in Beijing. Among the government officials and civic group leaders are dozens from the 25 countries that participate in the ADB's Anti-Corruption Initiative for the region.

China's government has been struggling to contain a growing number of protests among poor peasants over issues ranging from land grabs by corrupt officials, excessive taxation, and environmental degradation. Officials say there were 74,000 protests last year, up from 10,000 in 1994.

The protests have continued to grow despite the government's enactment of numerous anti-corruption laws. Political analysts say the continued protests mean a better strategy is needed.

Last year, China earned a score of 3.4 points in Transparency International's annual survey on how business people rank corruption in different countries. The least corrupt countries had scores above nine points with Finland the highest at 9.7.

Among the Asian countries earning less than three points were the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma and Bangladesh.

The three-day conference in Beijing will include discussions on strengthening regional cooperation, and the role of public opinion in anti-corruption reform.