China’s Gourmet-Seafood Sales Sink, Casualty of Frugality Campaign

After President Xi Jinping launched the campaign, officials and other Chinese elites have refrained from ordering luxurious seafood

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A fisherman holds a sea cucumber that was caught in Indonesia but eventually would be sent to China

China’s purveyors of abalones and sea cucumbers are losing business. After Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a frugality campaign, sales of these luxurious seafood took a nosedive at high-end Chinese restaurants.

“As the number of lavish official banquets has dwindled, the sale of pricey delicacies such as sea cucumbers and abalone has plunged,” Reuters reported.

Abalones and sea cucumbers were once indispensable from Chinese elites’ dining tables, where various deals are often discussed and sealed. A single kilogram of abalone can cost as much as $3,900, noted the Wall Street Journal. In ancient China, sea cucumbers were thought to contain the elixir of youth. Nowadays, boxes filled with the expensive seafood are often given out as gifts.

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Since Xi started the austerity drive, those gift boxes, which cost at least hundreds of dollars each, are gathering dust on wholesalers’ shelves, Reuters reported. It notes that growth of China’s high-end catering sector has also slowed because of a sharp decrease in official demand. According to a February survey by the China Cuisine Association, upscale restaurants in western China suffered an 80% decline in revenue. A five-star hotel in Beijing also lost roughly $1.6 million in canceled reservations.

Chinese state media say the country has applauded Xi’s effective anticorruption campaign, which also cracks down on military officials who abuse military-car license plates that allow them to skirt traffic laws with impunity. But the campaign has also been met with skepticism. According to a report by the government’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, some officials are just moving their luxurious feasts underground, with some providing “sauna bath receptions in farmyards” and “mineral water bottles with luxury liquor.”

Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director, questions Xi’s commitment to get tough on corruption after Chinese authorities detained anticorruption activists, who gave a speech about the need to address the problem in Beijing’s popular shopping district Xidan before police arrested them for illegal assembly. Ni Xing, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou, told Voice of America that the activists’ detention showed that the party doesn’t want to subject the reform to public pressure but would rather keep it within the system, where the abalones and the sea cucumbers stand ready to make a comeback once the rule somehow loosens.

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