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Chinese increasingly worried about graft: poll

BEIJING -- Weeks before China unveils its next generation of leaders, a new survey has found that growing numbers of its people worry about corruption, inequality and food safety, while ties with the United States are increasingly viewed with suspicion.

The latest Pew Global Attitudes China project, which polled more than 3,000 people earlier this year, shines a rare light on public opinion in a country where the government attempts to control information and limit discussion of contentious issues.

The survey, released on Tuesday, comes ahead of a Communist Party congress starting on Nov. 8, where those who will hold power for the next decade will be announced.

“As China prepares for its once-in-a-decade change of leadership, the Chinese people believe their country faces serious and growing challenges,” the authors of the survey wrote.

“In particular, the side effects of rapid economic growth, including the gap between rich and poor, rising prices (and) pollution ... are major concerns, and there are also increasing worries about political corruption.”

Graft is a particular sore point for leaders of the world's second-largest economy. The party has repeatedly warned that anger over corruption could threaten its survival, or at least destabilize its tight hold on power.

Half the respondents said they thought corrupt officials were a very big problem, up 11 percentage points from four years ago, while one-third thought corrupt business people were a major concern, up from around one-fifth in 2008.

Many Chinese have been enraged this year by a string of incidents of corruption and misuse of power, including a high-speed Ferrari crash reportedly involving the son of a senior official and a local official photographed flaunting luxury watches beyond the reach of his salary.

More sensationally, Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party chief of the city of Chongqing and a one-time high-flyer, was sacked this year on charges of graft and bending the law to hush up the murder of a British businessman by his wife.

One of the most dramatic shifts in public opinion was over food safety; respondents rating it a very big problem jumped almost 30 percentage points from 2008 figures, underscoring the impact of repeated food scandals on public confidence.

Chinese media reports on food adulteration cases almost every day, including the scourge of old cooking oil dredged from gutters to be re-packaged and re-sold, and the regular tainting of dairy products with poisonous substances.

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