Former National People's Congress chairman Qiao Shi has backed political liberalisation despite not having an official position in the hierarchy. A former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Mr Qiao recently threw his support behind the bestseller Cross Swords, which urged a faster pace of political reform. The book has been attacked by leftists, or ultra-conservatives, for forsaking the teachings of Marxism. 'Cross Swords has enlightened us concerning the history of reform,' Beijing sources quoted Mr Qiao, 73, as saying yesterday. 'We should support the publication of such worthy books.' In contrast, conservatives inside and outside the administration have sought to ban the book. Another elder in the liberal camp, Wan Li, Mr Qiao's predecessor as NPC chief, had also spoken out in support of the book. Sources said Mr Qiao, considered a political foe of President Jiang Zemin, had toured the provinces since leaving office in March. While generally assuming a low profile on tour, Mr Qiao urged local officials to carry on with fast-paced reform. Diplomatic pundits said it was customary for non-mainstream officials to keep their political influence by 'networking' in the regions. It is thought Mr Qiao has also visited party and government offices with whom he has been associated. Units he recently visited included the NPC general office and the Central Party School. The analysts said Mr Qiao was among a group of moderate party elders including Mr Wan and former president Yang Shangkun who could exert influence should the Jiang leadership encounter difficulties in reform. They said Mr Jiang and his allies had taken precautions and limited the role of Qiao proteges such as Tian Jiyun, an NPC vice-chairman. The national media has also minimised coverage of their activities. Meanwhile, the authorities have tightened surveillance over ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang and his former secretary Bao Tong, both under virtual house arrest. For example, Mr Zhao has been prevented from talking to Mr Bao over the phone.