Editorial aims to silence calls for political reform

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 October, 2010, 12:00am

The Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily published its second editorial in a week addressing the sensitive topic of political reform yesterday, saying any change must be conducted gradually under a socialist system and Communist leadership.

The front-page editorial is seen as rebutting growing calls for Western-style democracy from within and outside the establishment, including those by Premier Wen Jiabao, according to analysts.

It was also aimed at tackling widespread criticism in the wake of a party plenum, which made only a passing reference to the pressing issue.

'It is obviously aimed at silencing such calls, as an editorial of the paper often reflects the views of highest authorities and sets the tone and principles for main issues,' said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University.

The editorial rejected the recent calls for Western-style democracy, saying that political change 'must not be divorced from reality and try to leap over [historical] stages, much less be full of flash without substance and empty slogans'.

Zhang said: 'The statement is apparently targeting the liberal camp within the party and also highly likely targeting Wen Jiabao himself.'

While yesterday's editorial and the one published on October 20 reiterated hardline rhetoric on the issues, yesterday's one disputed the widely held notion that China's political progress was lagging far behind its phenomenal economic growth.

Such an idea 'is contrary to objective law and does not conform to the objective facts', it said, adding that China 'has accumulated a treasury of experience in the restructuring of its political system after over 30 years of reform experiments'.

The article was signed using a name, Zheng Qingyuan, which in Chinese sounds similar to the idiom zheng ben qing yuan, which means to bring something back to the correct path.

Professor Hu Xingdou, of Beijing University of Technology, said the editorial was the top leadership's response to the recent calls for Western-style political reform.

'It reflects either the Politburo as a whole or some very senior leaders' views,' Hu said, adding that Wen's recent remarks were his own.

Wen described democracy, freedom and human rights as desirable and 'irresistible'. He warned that delaying political restructuring would be the biggest threat to long-term growth and stability.

Zhang said the editorial reflected the views of a majority in the top hierarchy and their desire to maintain stability, as many of them are set to retire in two years. The 18th party congress in 2012 will feature a major reshuffle of the leadership.

The editorial also followed the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month to imprisoned Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who urged reforms to the country's single-party system.

Wen's remarks inspired liberals both within and outside the party, with one elite group of retired party elders issuing an open letter to the national legislature this month calling for freedom of publication and an end to blanket censorship. A group of liberal intellectuals has made similar calls.

Hopes were running high that the party might finally edge forward on political reform. However, the annual party plenum ended last week with only a one-sentence statement on the topic.

The editorial invoked Deng Xiaoping , the late paramount leader, who ushered in economic reforms but rejected any political restructuring after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen.

'Comrade Deng Xiaoping clearly pointed out that in judging whether a country's political system and structure are correct there are three key indicators: whether its political situation is stable; whether the system can enhance unity among its citizens and improve their lives; and whether the country's productivity can be sustainably developed,' it said.

The editorial rejected Western-style democracy by emphasising that political changes should be conducted in a 'correct political direction' and in accordance with China's historical conditions and cultural background.

'We will never copy the models in the Western political system, such as the multiple-party system and the three divisions of power,' it said, insisting China would travel its own path in that regard.