For the past year or so, Iran has been undergoing a modest if irregular degree of political thaw as some leaders prod the militantly Islamic nation towards more moderate policies at home and abroad. The prospect of normal discourse has been welcomed around the world. But the effort has far to go, as a warning speech by the leader of the reformist wing, President Mohammad Khatami, made clear on Monday. And though circumstances vary greatly from country to country, his remarks deserve special attention in China and around the region. Mr Khatami aimed his sharpest words at hardliners who regularly frustrate his campaign for change. He warned that their consistent efforts to thwart popular demands could lead to chaos. We should worry, he said bluntly, that 'one day our people will feel the authorities are not meeting their real demands and that dirty hands have succeeded in disappointing them and alienating them. Under such circumstances, no military, security or judicial power will be able to save the country. The biggest danger threatening our society is misuse of power'. Iran's problems are in many ways unique. Two decades ago popular religious leaders replaced a corrupt royal system and led the nation towards theocracy. But in recent times a combination of economic failure and political rigidity has brought a predictable backlash and led to the reforming Mr Khatami's landslide election. The nation is clearly troubled. Many people have grown tired of privation and of bossy officials telling them what to do. They also suspect the motives of these conservatives include protecting their own jobs and privileges at the public's expense. President Khatami was trying to warn them this cannot endure over the long term. Within the confines of the rule of law, he said, 'public liberties' must be permitted. In differing degrees, this warning applies across Asia, from Korea to China to Vietnam and Burma. If the populace anywhere decides its officials are overly concerned with protecting themselves and their friends, an eventual reaction is all too likely. Governments need to serve the common good and to be perceived as doing so. Otherwise, they risk undermining the stability they are trying to preserve and bringing about the turmoil they wish so much to avoid.