In a political system defined by shades of grey, Premier Wen Jiabao is a colourful character. His regular calls over the past year for political reform are in stark contrast to the firm stand of other senior Communist Party leaders that there will be no change. Questions abound as to the nature of his campaign and why he can voice such thoughts when others have been quickly silenced. What is of no doubt, though, is that he is holding the torch of reform high and ensuring the debate continues at the uppermost political echelons. Wen should be supported in his efforts. There is no better time for such a debate to take place. The fresh crackdown on dissent sparked by Beijing's concern that the Arab world's democracy revolutions could spread to Chinese soil dampened hopes of a shift towards more open discussion. President Hu Jintao has made the position plain - one party rule is here to stay. For Wen to be persistently reiterating the need for a rethink in such an environment may seem brave, even foolhardy. Yet within the country and outside - first in Shenzhen last August and most recently during trips to Malaysia and Indonesia last month - he has been publicly sharing his concept of political reform. Former senior leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were purged for their outspoken liberal remarks, but Wen has been able to continue. There are a number of plausible reasons for his actions, from his widespread popularity to the fact that he has less than two years left in office. His remarks are in keeping with rights found in China's constitution, including free speech. But the reality is different; the party puts itself above such laws. The crackdown suggests that Wen's thinking will have little sway, at least in the near future. Still, the leadership recognises that with economic growth, people's expectations have changed. A mechanism has to be found to ensure voices can be aired and grievances properly handled. This will prevent the need for citizens to go to extraordinary lengths to be heard. While Wen's views have been given wide coverage in the foreign media, they have been paid little heed on the mainland. A front page commentary last October in the People's Daily, resolutely rejected the idea that China should have a Western-style, multi-party, democratic political system. In echoing that sentiment at the plenary session of the National People's Congress in March, NPC chairman Wu Bangguo asserted that the system posed a threat to the nation's stability. Why, then, is Wen making the effort? There is talk he is trying to build on his legacy and further burnish his popular image. Whatever the reason, though, we trust he believes in what he is preaching. For someone of his authority and standing to be pushing for a more representative government is good. Keeping the call alive and making sure it continues among the leadership is essential.