China's Communist Party has rejected criticism that its one-party state is to blame for widespread government corruption. An official in charge of party discipline says there has been a marked decline in corruption cases since 2003, which he said was due to the "superiority" of China's socialist system. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

The Chinese Communist Party's discipline inspection commission said its ongoing fight against corruption is proving successful. It said the party punished more than 97,000 of its members for graft, bribery, dereliction of duty, and other offenses last year.

Vice secretary of the commission Gan Yisheng brushed aside criticism that the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power allows party officials to abuse their positions for personal gain. He said countries with different political systems also had corruption.

"China's anti-corruption problem was not at all created by its socialist system," he said. "Quite on the contrary, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party the remarkable achievements we have scored in the fight against corruption should be attributed to the superiority of the socialist system."

Gan said the number of cases investigated for serious violations of party discipline and handed over to judicial organs in 2006 dropped by 10.9 percent from 2005.

He said party officials found to have violated party discipline accounted for only 0.14 percent of about 70 million party members. He said this showed the vast majority of party cadres are clean and honest.

China's top leaders have said corruption threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the party and the stability of the nation, a view Gan repeated.

He also repeated the party's position that all officials are held accountable under the law. Last year 3,500 party members were handed over to prosecutors, seven of them at or above the governor or ministerial level.

Gan cited the case of former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was fired last year and is being investigated on suspicion of misuse of social security funds, as an example.

But he acknowledged that the party makes the real decisions on disciplining party members suspected of wrongdoing, not the legal system.

Party suspects are first handled through an internal party investigation and discipline system. Those cases the party then deems worthy of criminal prosecution are handed over to the judicial system. Gan's report follows several high-profile cases in which senior officials have been convicted or charged with corruption.