Senior members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) have written to the leadership urging a faster pace of political reform.
The cadres, including several vice-chairmen of the top advisory body, pointed out that liberalisation measures should be introduced soon after the mainland's accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) next year.
A party source said yesterday that the advisers wanted the leadership to begin the reforms by ensuring that the National People's Congress enjoyed its constitutional status as the 'organ of the highest power' of the land. The advisers pointed out that this would help ensure rule by law as well as forceful supervision of party and government officials.
'The implied corollary of the advisers' suggestion is that the party beats a partial retreat by, for example, ceasing to be the real power behind the legislature, the courts and other supervisory units,' the source said.
A number of CPPCC leaders, including Chairman Li Ruihuan and vice-chairmen Hu Qili and Chen Junsheng, are considered noted reformers.
The source said apart from CPPCC members, a number of mainstream cadres also supported the idea that accession to the global trade body would provide a good opportunity for the reform of the political structure.
According to a State Council source, Premier Zhu Rongji had pointed out that without adequate levels of political reform, many economic reforms he had planned to go with the mainland's accession might not succeed.
'Zhu has subtly signalled his support for political reforms as long as they will not be socially destabilising,' the source said.
'The Premier wants to revive the Deng Xiaoping line that economic and political reforms should be implemented together.' The source said leaders including Mr Zhu were convinced that, without political change, opposition to WTO and related reforms would remain entrenched.
A think-tank under the party Central Committee is studying ways to kick-start a new cycle of political reform late next year.
It is understood the think-tank is focusing on democratisation in the Chinese context.
But at this stage there is a lack of consensus in the leadership on whether 'Western-style' mechanisms, such as election by universal suffrage, should be taken up to reach these goals.