UPDATE 2-China austerity campaign knocks official spending in 2013

Sat Mar 15, 2014 11:33pm EDT

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SHANGHAI, March 15 (Reuters) - A campaign against Chinese government excess took major bites out of spending on official meetings, travel and vehicles in 2013, the Communist Party's chief disciplinary body said.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement money spent on meetings, official overseas trips and vehicle purchases fell by about 53 percent, 39 percent and 10 percent respectively from 2012.

The Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping has been publicising efforts to crack down on wasteful government spending and corruption to shore up its mandate to rule, which has been shaken by suspicion that officials waste taxpayers' money on extravagances even as economic growth slows.

Anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan on Saturday called for efforts to innovate disciplinary inspection and make it "the Sword of Damocles" that will hang over officials' heads, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The commission is preparing to investigate numerous government agencies this year, including the Ministry of Science and Technology, Shanghai-based Fudan University, state-owned China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO), the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and other regional governments including that of Beijing city, Xinhua said.

Wang asked inspectors to keep a "sober mind" as the situation of the country's anti-corruption fight remains "grave and complicated", Xinhua added.

He urged inspectors to earnestly perform their duties, adding that those who "turn a blind eye to violations will be held accountable".

But Wang made no mention of specific cases, such as that of retired former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who sources have told Reuters is the target of a corruption probe.

The government has yet to make any announcement about Zhou, though Beijing has confirmed the downfall of several of his allies, including Jiang Jiemin, briefly top regulator of state-owned enterprises, and former Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng.

The crackdown has damaged the business of many high-end restaurants and hotels, in particular in Beijing, and has also caused concern that a decline in government fleet vehicle purchases will reduce revenues at foreign luxury automobile makers. (Reporting by Pete Sweeney; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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