Since last August, Premier Wen Jiabao has positioned himself as a champion of political reform on the mainland, and his campaign has since intensified.
Wen, 69, known for his populist image, triggered a slew of debates over political reform following a speech on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. 'Without the protection of political reform, the achievements we have made through economic reform may be lost, and hence, the goal of modernisation may be beyond realisation,' Wen said then.
He made remarks with a similar stance six times in the following six weeks, including telling overseas Chinese media chiefs in New York in late September: 'The main purpose of political reform is to safeguard the freedoms and rights provided under the constitution and the law.'
He also pledged in an interview with CNN in early October that he would spare no effort in pursuing political reform, saying: 'I will not fall in spite of a strong wind and harsh rain, and I will not yield till the last day of my life.'
Although the view advocated by Wen was supported by the mainland's liberal publications - including the Study Times, a weekly newspaper affiliated with the Central Party School, and outspoken political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu - it was rejected in a front-page commentary carried by the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, in late October.
Under the pseudonym of 'Zheng Qingyuan' - which translates as 'clarifying matters and getting to the bottom of things' in Chinese, the article strongly denounced the introduction of the so-called Western-style multiparty democratic system - one of the most sensitive political issues on the mainland because it implied the end of one-party rule. Such a hard-line, conservative political response was further endorsed by National People's Congress chairman Wu Bangguo, who ruled out the possibility of political reform during the plenary session of the NPC in mid-March and stressed that Western-style democracy would pose a threat to the nation's stability.
Wen, however, appears undaunted, launching a new round of offensives to call for political reforms.
On Saturday, Wen shared his concept of political reform with veteran Hong Kong columnist and former local NPC deputy Ng Hong-mun at a meeting in Wen's office at the Zhongnanhai party headquarters. Ng quoted Wen as saying that the lingering influence of the Cultural Revolution and feudalistic values had deterred mainlanders from speaking the truth. As the only state leader to advocate political reform and tout 'universal values', Wen told cadres on April 19 to 'speak the truth'.
On Wednesday, Wen told students at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur that he had never thought he would become a political leader and reiterated his belief of 'never give up on the people'.