Liquor Moutai targeted amid outcry over officials' expenses
BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Premium liquor brand Moutai has become the center of heated debates both at the ongoing annual parliamentary session and on the Internet amid the current outcry in China over officials' dining extravagance funded by public money.
The latest trigger was a Moutai executive's response when asked to comment on a national political advisor's proposal to ban the pricey booze in government-funded dining sessions.
"If Moutai was banned, I would be confused what drink could be served at government receptions? Should it be Lafite [luxury French wine] instead?" said Liu Zili, general manager of southwest Guizhou province-based Kweichow Moutai Distillery Co., at a Friday media event.
Liu's remarks touched the nerve of many people who have long criticized government officials' receptions, overseas tours and automobile use funded by taxes, citing them as a key area of corruption.
Whether Moutai should be consumed by officials on public funds has ranked among the top topics on Sina Weibo, the Chinese-language Twitter-like microblogging service, with more than 2 million entries posted on the subject since the weekend.
"If officials pay themselves, nobody will care what kind of drink they have. But how can they spend taxpayers' money on drinking Moutai or Lafite? How about setting a cap of 30 yuan [nearly five U.S. dollars] for each meal per person if a meal is necessary for overtime work?" read a Weibo post on Tuesday.
China's most famous liquor, Moutai ranked as the fourth most valuable luxury brand globally in a latest edition of the Hurun Report, a publication about the country's entrepreneurs.
The retail price of an ordinary 0.5-liter bottle of Moutai that contains 53 percent alcohol has surged from about 200 yuan per bottle in 2003 to more than 2,000 yuan per bottle in 2011, an increase of nearly 1,000 percent.
Widely recognized among the favorite options at government receptions, the liquor brand has become a watchword for misuse of public funds and corruption by officials in China.
In his proposal on banning Moutai in government dining, political advisor Lin Jialai termed public-funded government receptions a major driving force behind the soaring price of the liquor.
However, the microbloggers have more to say.
"If Moutai were not allowed, they would probably choose more expensive wine," read a entry posted under the microblog account name "Fuerdiaocha." The post said that it is unwise to attack Moutai, which is actually a time-honor brand, and the real target should be the way the government uses public money.
In a related comment, Li Zhanshu, Party chief of Guizhou province, home to the Moutai distillery, said last week that there were no intrinsic links between the liquor brand and public-funded government dining.
"In the same way Moutai sells to others, the government purchase of the liquor is also market behavior, which should not necessarily entail criticism," according to the official.
Drinking liquor has been accepted as something seemingly indispensable for formal banquets in China. But when huge amounts of public money are used in buying luxury drinks for officials, it has understandably fuelled criticism.
During the national political advisory body's annual session, the Jiu San (September 3rd) Society, a non-Communist party, also proposed that squandering public money be counted as a crime, a move that would stem extravagant official dining.
China's annual spending on public-funded receptions amounted to 300 billion yuan, according to an earlier report in The Beijing News, quoting figures listed in the Jiu San Society proposal.
It is noticeable that China has been progressing toward making its government budget more transparent, with many central government organs publicizing their spending on government receptions, overseas trips and vehicles last year. However, it is also true China has a lot more to do.
"What else could be served for government receptions, if not Moutai? It is a good question," one Weibo post said in response to the Moutai's executive's controversial comments.
"Anyway, the budget will be spent wastefully and there are more consumption options if Moutai is banned," the post added, hinting the poster agrees with others in believing it is the root of the problem, the squandering of taxpayers' money, that is really worthy of criticism, not a single liquor brand.