Cadres should not neglect the benefits of democracy or take a lukewarm attitude in promoting it, a senior leader said yesterday.
Li Ruihuan also hinted that democracy or political reform could be on the agenda for the mainland.
It was the most affirmative statement on the subject to date by a top leader.
Mr Li, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said: 'Democracy is an important indicator of development of society, and common aspiration of our people.' The Politburo Standing Committee member warned against copying the Western political model or adopting a no-holds-barred approach.
But he told a national forum of provincial CPPCC chairmen in Beijing it was pointless to lose faith in China's development of democracy.
'Democracy is a goal, means and process,' Mr Li said.
'It is a goal because it is an inevitable outcome as history develops.' He emphasised the importance of democracy in public consultation and supervision of authorities.
But he highlighted the complexities in its development and warned against possible pitfalls, saying: 'This is going to be a complicated process and we can't just rush things through.
'Democracy in China will develop under leadership, in a step-by-step, active and steady manner.
'Democracy must move forward as our economy, social development and quality of the people improve.' His remarks were seen as an attempt to woo support from liberal factions of the leadership as the race for the chairmanship of the National People's Congress intensifies. Chairman Qiao Shi is to step down in March.
President Jiang Zemin resurrected the subject of political reform in his eulogy for Deng Xiaoping last February and in his 15th Party Congress address, but stopped short of charting a firm course of action to reform the system.