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SHANGHAI - A Shanghai legislator has proposed to prohibit Moutai, arguably China's most renowned liquor, from being served at government dinners in response to recent public criticism of the practice.

"The price of Moutai keeps soaring and drinking the liquor is considered a luxury," said Shen Haixiong, a deputy to the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress. "To consume the liquor is actually an abuse of public funds."

Shen, editor-in-chief of Xinhua News Agency's Shanghai branch, raised the proposal on Sunday. 

His proposal came days after Moutai was listed by Hurun Research Institute as the fourth most valuable luxury brand of the world and one of the top 10 gift brands preferred by multimillionaires.

"The local discipline authorities should launch routine inspections to avoid expensive liquor from being consumed at official banquets," Shen said.

"Moutai was recently chosen as one of the world's most valuable luxury brands by Forbes business magazine. And as far as I know, the government is prohibited from luxury consumption. It is also not acceptable that a national brand that was once close to the grassroots now costs more and more," Shen said.

A bottle of 53 percent proof Flying Moutai - the brand's bestseller - costs 2,100 yuan ($330), up from 200 yuan in 2000.

Share of Shanghai-traded Kweichow Moutai, producer of the liquor, slumped nearly 6 percent to 177.48 yuan on Monday.

The reporter from China Daily was unable to contact Moutai on Monday.

Several other deputies reportedly echoed Shen, but the proposal stirred disagreements as well.

"So many other things are more expensive than Moutai, such as the French wine brand Lafite. Shall we ban them all?" said a netizen going by the moniker Mr Abalone on Sina.com, a leading Chinese news website. "What the government should do is set a quota for per capita consumption at the government banquet."

Zhu Lijia, professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said the problem is not what wine or what dishes should be consumed during official banquets. What matters is the trend of official banquets becoming ever more luxurious.

"The traditional discipline says receptions of Party or government organs should stay simple, and a dinner should not exceed four courses and one soup. But there is no clear legislation on specific standards of official receptions. It leaves room for luxury consumption, which has triggered a growing public outcry," Zhu said.

"Regulating the government banquets by law is necessary, but prohibiting drinking Moutai cannot solve the problem," he said.

The statistics from the Ministry of Finance showed 60 ministries and institutions spent more than 3 billion yuan on government vehicles, receptions and overseas trips in 2010.

The disclosed information reflected only the total number in official budgets, without details. 

Meanwhile, about 40 percent of the ministries and departments have not released related information nor did many local governments and Party organs.

The public has been challenging government spending in recent years, especially official banquets and overseas trips, and demands that more information be disclosed so that public money will not be abused.

"The public won't be satisfied unless government spending is made transparent. And there should be punishments for violators," Zhu said.


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