A prominent scholar has sought to rekindle a debate to promote greater democracy on the mainland, urging the country not to use the current threat to people's livelihoods as a pretext to block democratic reform. In an essay to be published today in China Comment, a fortnightly magazine owned by Xinhua, Yu Keping - deputy director general of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, a Communist Party think-tank - warned that the country would make a grave mistake if it gave priority to economic development and the improvement of people's livelihoods over democratic progress Mr Yu, who shot to fame in 2006 for his much-publicised article 'Democracy Is a Good Thing', declined to be interviewed yesterday, but his article summarised six points that he believed needed urgent clarification so that democracy could develop in China. He said any state regime needed authority, centralisation, order and obedience, 'but democracy should first be realised as a state system of rule by the people'. Mr Yu said he had been misquoted before as advocating a gradual transition to democracy. Instead, he said, he was a proponent of 'incremental democracy characterised by some sort of radical reform' - an apparent break from the official line, which for years has espoused gradual reform. In a Financial Times interview earlier this year, Premier Wen Jiabao defended the country's gradual approach, saying its democracy would have Chinese characteristics to reflect the country's situation. Ong Yew-kim, a senior research fellow of politics and law at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said there had been a rising tendency on the mainland to oppose democracy and western values, particularly as the central authorities remained ambiguous about the country's future direction. He said there was also nostalgia for the pre-reform era of three decades ago. Citing the judicial system, Professor Ong said conservatives in the field were backtracking from a commitment made 10 years ago to an independent judicial system and cultivation of professional judges and lawyers. 'As a pro-reform scholar, Yu Keping has come forward to counter ... the conservatives over their absurd school of thought,' Professor Ong said. 'However, as a mainstream scholar, Mr Yu has to observe the bottom line over what he's allowed to say.' While arguing against one fixed mode of democracy in the world, Mr Yu said the universal nature of democracy should not be used as a reason to dismiss some unique features of democracy. 'Dismissing democracy's universal qualities by viewing it simply as a pattern from the west is just as prejudiced as rejecting it on the basis of its unique features,' he said.