Guangdong's party chief Wang Yang has promised to bring back the spirit of reform in the southern province, in an apparent attempt to repair the tarnished image of the region in the wake of a recent string of negative events Speaking on Monday at a provincial meeting on deepening institutional reform in Shantou city, Wang reiterated calls for reform, one of his favourite platforms when he first took office in 2007. As quoted by local media, Wang declared reform to be the strongest, most sustainable and least expensive path to development. 'Reform is the root and soul of Guangdong,' Wang told cadres. 'A growing problem is that some of us have lost that daring spirit, courage and energy along the way [as people focused more on getting rich].' He said that the sense of reform had been weakening over the years: 'Some people even think development can solve all the problems, and reform is sometimes deemed decorative or even troublesome.' The road to future development would be a bumpy one if no one strived to improve the current social situation. Wang urged cadres to speed up the transfer of social services and social management powers to non-governmental organisations, and he called for a lowering of the bar for registrations of such organisations. Wang also said efforts towards subsidised housing and medical reform should be deepened, and that the legal system must be further refined. Wang is one of the most closely watched contenders for a top party position in next year's leadership reshuffle, and he has been widely seen as directly competing with his perceived rival Bo Xilai, party chief of Chongqing, for a seat on the county's Politburo Standing Committee. But as local media featured headlines yesterday on Wang's talk of reform, online dissenters criticised Guangdong, saying it had regressed in the light of recent social problems. One commentary, on Utopia - a portal featuring articles and opinions by mainly conservative socialists - compared those problems to 'fruits yielded from Guangdong's evil path of capitalism', and cited examples such as a newborn Foshan baby dumped in a toilet, a Shenzhen civil servant beating up his father, a member of Shenzhen's urban management squad raiding a business and raping a woman, and the case of a two-year-old girl being run over twice in Foshan as several passers-by left her in a pool of her own blood. One commenter wrote that Guangdong's development model was only successful because it was built on preferential national tax policies and labour exploitation. Dr Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst and former professor at Renmin University, said: 'My sense is that Wang wants a debate on which reform - his or Bo's - China needs to undertake in the coming months.' The Beijing-based political analyst Dr Liu Junning said Guangdong's model was simply a miniature version of China's. 'The problems faced by Guangdong are, or will be, faced by China as a whole,' Liu said. He said the current path to reform had reached its end, and Guangdong now needed real changes, such as a democratically elected government and uncensored media.