POLITICAL reforms will be postponed until after the 16th Party Congress in 2002 at the earliest, a Beijing source said.
An internal circular has been dispatched to different departments instructing officials to concentrate on economic matters instead of political reforms before the congress.
'The central authorities will not consider any political reforms before that,' said an informed Beijing source.
'Evaluation will be made before the 16th Party Congress to see if economic development meets its targets and whether the time is mature for political reform.' Patriarch Deng Xiaoping first raised the principle of 'separation of party and government' in the 13th Party Congress nine years ago. His advocation was seen as a positive sign for political reform in China.
But the principle was never implemented. Positions like ministers and governors are still monopolised by senior party members. Communist Party secretaries in various different institutions still govern activities of government cadres.
The latest circular means that the principle will continue to be frozen until at least 2002. In addition, the leadership will not consider major constitutional reform in the period and democracy will be limited to direct elections of local leaders below the county level.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party will strengthen its leadership within the Government. Although China has started to streamline its bureaucracy and experiment with a civil servant system, most government officials are party members and they seldom act independently of the party line.
Discussions on political reforms reached a climax in the mid-1980s when liberal party secretaries like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were at the helm.
At that time, political science scholars suggested that the positions of delegates to people's congresses at provincial and municipal levels should be open to public elections.
At present, congress members at municipal and provincial levels are indirectly elected.
Candidates are restricted and chosen, though some candidates from village levels might have been selected through popular votes.
Informed sources said the authorities would continue to maintain a tight rein over the media in the next few years. This was despite suggestions by reformists that legislations on freedom of expression, right of assembly and publications should be introduced to allow Chinese citizens greater civil liberty, as was promised under the constitution.