President Xi Jinping renewed his call for broad reform while in Hubei yesterday - a move seen by observers as an effort to reassure liberals ahead of a key party conclave.
The remarks, which come as party leaders prepare for their annual policy summit in Beidaihe , appeared aimed at quieting concerns about his support for further reform amid rising social unrest and a declining economy, political analysts say.
"To address the series of conflicts and challenges China faces in the current development, the key is to deepen reforms across the board," Xi said during an inspection tour in Hubei.
It was Xi's most extensive comments on reform since echoing Deng Xiaoping's call for deepening reform during a Shenzhen visit shortly after being named party chief in November.
Xi has since stoked the fears of reformists with repeated references to Mao Zedong . First, he defended the late helmsman's legacy against those who would repudiate it. Then he launched a Mao-style "mass line" campaign to repair grass-roots support for the party.
"Xi's previous remarks might have left many people with the impression that he is not keen on further reforms. But now he might be trying to dispel such speculation," said Zhang Lifan , a Beijing-based political affairs analyst.
"What he said is not something brand-new," he said. "He might be learning from the late Mao Zedong, who was good at keeping a balance between left and right. Now, Xi wants to win back the liberals' hearts."
The mainland has seen recent high-profile incidents of unrest and crime, including ethnic clashes in Xinjiang , self-immolation in Tibetan areas, protests against industrial projects in Guangdong and a bombing by a disgruntled petitioner in Beijing.
Some analysts, such as Beijing economist Zhong Dajun remained sceptical about Xi's support for reforms. He said Xi had not yet presented a clear vision for change. "He stresses a balance between push for overall reform and a breakthrough in some areas," Zhong said. "But how is he going to start and what are his priorities?"