China's new leadership has begun investigating a top official in Sichuan for graft, at the same time vowing to do away with lavish receptions for ruling Chinese Communist Party functionaries.
Li Chuncheng, deputy Party secretary of the southwestern province of Sichuan, was placed under investigation this week by the Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, following warnings from incoming president Xi Jinping that the Party must beat graft or lose power.
But overseas commentators said the move was likely linked to behind-the-scenes political maneuvers in Beijing, as Li had close ties to former state security chief Zhou Yongkang, whose position has been compromised by his links to ousted Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai.
Zhou stepped down at last month's 18th Party Congress, and his job was downgraded, making it subordinate to the all-powerful Politburo standing committee of which Zhou had been part.
China's parliament expelled Bo from its ranks in October following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, removing his parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a trial.
Cai Yongmei, executive editor of the Hong Kong-based Kaifang magazine, said China's new leadership under president-in-waiting Xi Jinping and premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang felt obliged to move swiftly after the leadership transition last month.
"They have to show some results on the biggest corruption issues that generate the most public anger," Cai said.
"The issue with Li Chuncheng ... means that they are looking for one or two scapegoats with which they can do their anti-corruption work, and assuage popular anger," she said.
However, analysts say China's new leadership has been divided and polarized by factional in-fighting in the wake of Bo's fall, the biggest political scandal to hit the Party in more than two decades.
Cai said the investigation of Li Chuncheng could also be part of the fallout from Bo's ouster.
"The case of the Sichuan deputy provincial Party secretary also touches on a power struggle and the fact that he is quite high-ranking suggests that he is being offered up as a fall guy," she said.
"[Li] could be connected to Zhou Yongkang or to Bo Xilai, so that they are using anti-corruption as a tactic to eliminate their political enemies," Cai said.
Xi, in his speech on taking over as General Secretary and as head of the Central Military Commission, warned of "severe challenges" ahead for China, including a growing gap between the political elite and the ordinary people.
He singled out "particularly corruption [and] being divorced from the people" as challenges facing the Party.
Call for reduced spending
Now, the Politburo has issued a directive banning welcome banners, floral arrangements, or grand receptions for official visits and functions, official media reported on Wednesday.
"Spending on official trips and inspections should be kept to the minimum necessary level," state-run news agency Xinhua quoted an official statement as saying.
Official privilege, rampant graft, and the impunity with which well-connected people break the law have caused widespread public fury in recent years, which is particularly evident on China's popular microblogging services.
"There should be fewer traffic controls arranged for the leaders' security of their trips to avoid unnecessary inconvenience to the public," the Politburo said.
Orchestrated, expenses-paid welcome receptions by overseas Chinese people, institutions, and students at foreign airports are also "unnecessary," it said.
However, analysts say that the Party is unlikely to make much headway on graft without a commitment to publicize the personal assets of officials and their families.
Bao Tong, a former top aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, called in a recent commentary aired on RFA's Mandarin service for a "sunshine law" requiring officials to publicize details of their wealth.
"Idle talk about corruption harms the country," Bao wrote from his Beijing home, where he is currently held under house arrest. "The sunshine law ... would be the first building block in [the anti-corruption] process."
"Without this actual deed, then all this talk of doing something, of cracking down, of fighting the people's war against corruption, will all be reduced to idle talk that harms our country," he said.
China scored poorly in an annual global corruption index published by Berlin-based Transparency International on Wednesday, which measures perceptions of corruption around the world.
Mainland China ranked 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from last year.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.