BEIJING, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The threat of corruption is so serious for Communist China that outgoing President Hu Jintao said if not checked, it could cause the "fall of the state."
Corruption, which plagues China at various levels despite persistent government crackdowns, was one of the issues Hu dealt with extensively in his keynote address at Thursday's opening of the weeklong 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China, a once-in-five-years event that this time will also see a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Hu, likely to be replaced with Vice President Xi Jingping at the top leadership hierarchy, warned delegates the party must make unremitting efforts to combat corruption, promote integrity and stay vigilant against degeneration, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
"If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state," Hu said, Xinhua reported.
"All those who violate party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have, must be brought to justice without mercy," he said.
He said top officials at all levels, especially high-ranking officials, must readily observe the code of conduct on clean governance and that no one is allowed to place oneself above party organization.
Last month, the party's discipline watchdog announced that in the past two years, 3,578 party officials were punished for taking an estimated total of more than $62 million in bribes. It said another 83,195 officials voluntarily surrendered bribes totaling more than $123 million.
Among the top scandals in China recently was the ouster of former Chongqing Party leader Bo Xilai, once a rising party star, and the jailing of his wife in a murder case. Bo himself is expected to be tried on corruption charges.
In another scandal, Liu Zhijun was removed as railways minister after he was found to have allegedly used his position to seek huge illegal profits for business people, Xinhua said.
"The problems of Bo and Liu are serious corruption cases among leading cadres of the party, and the lessons are profound," Cai Mingzhao, chief spokesman for the current party congress, told reporters Wednesday.
Cai said the party's discipline watchdog is drafting a working plan on punishing and preventing corruption between 2013 and 2017.
Corruption at high places is also drawing much public reaction in China as millions of citizens become avid online users despite official efforts to curb such use. The public reaction is growing as the wealth gap widens in line with China's economic growth.