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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chinese Article Seems to Chide Leader

October 29, 2010

By MICHAEL WINES and SHARON LaFRANIERE
The International Herald Tribune
October 27, 2010

BEIJING -- China’s main Communist Party newspaper
bluntly rejected calls for speedier political
reform on Wednesday, publishing a front-page
commentary that said any changes in China’s
political system should not emulate Western
democracies, but "consolidate the party’s
leadership so that the party commands the overall situation."

The opinion article in People’s Daily, signed
with what appeared to be a pseudonym, appeared at
least obliquely aimed at Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao. He has argued in speeches and media
interviews that China’s economic progress
threatens to stall without systemic reforms,
including an independent judiciary, greater
oversight of government by the press and
improvements in China’s sharply limited form of elections.

It also may have been directed at countering
recent demands for democratic reforms by Chinese
liberal intellectuals and Communist Party elders,
spurred in part by Mr. Wen’s remarks and timed to
this month’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to an
imprisoned Chinese democracy advocate, Liu Xiaobo.

Mr. Wen’s comments have fueled a debate among
analysts over whether he is advocating
Western-style changes in China’s governing system
or merely calling for more openness inside the ruling Communist Party.

Wednesday’s commentary, which closely followed
the ruling party’s annual planning session, ran
to 1,800 words and delved into topics only
occasionally discussed in the state media. The
article emphatically repeated past declarations
that changes modeled on American or European
political systems were inappropriate for China.
It also appeared to directly reject Mr. Wen’s
warning that economic progress and political reforms were inseparably linked.

"The idea that China’s political reform is
seriously lagging behind its remarkable economic
development is not only contrary to the law of
objectivity but also to the objective facts," it stated.

It later added: "In promoting political reform,
we shouldn’t copy the Western political system
model; shouldn’t engage in something like
multiparty coalition government or separation of
powers among the executive, legislative and
judicial branches. We should stick to our own way."

A Chinese political historian who asked not to be
named in discussing the issue said, "Obviously,
this is a criticism of Wen." He later qualified
his remark, saying the editorial amounted to "a
sideways swipe," noting that Mr. Wen was not explicitly named.

Still, the notion of a link is bolstered by a
leaked Oct. 19 directive from Communist Party
censors that ordered Internet sites and news
organizations to delete all references to a
recent interview of Mr. Wen by CNN. In that Sept.
23 interview, Mr. Wen said that "the people’s
wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible."

Mr. Wen has made similar statements in previous
years, and the party’s more conservative majority
has appeared to bristle. In 2007, after Mr. Wen
publicly embraced "universal values" like human
rights, the state-controlled press reacted with
what seemed nationalistic vigor, and the term has since become taboo.

Some analysts said on Wednesday that the party’s
brusque reaction this time points to a growing
debate over the future direction of China’s political system.

"It does appear to be a direct swipe at Wen’s
statements," David Shambaugh, who heads the China
Policy Program at George Washington University in
Washington, said in an e-mail. "It is more
evidence of a division of views within higher
levels of the party on the scope and pace of ‘democratic’ reform."

Still unclear, he said, is what democratic reform
means to members of the party hierarchy.
Publicly, at least, virtually all debate on
democracy in party journals and speeches has been
limited to ways of making the party bureaucracy
more responsive to ordinary citizens rather than
giving those citizens a direct voice.

A Beijing scholar of the leadership, Russell
Leigh Moses, called the editorial "a reminder to
cadres that the party will set the tone and terms
of the debate on political reform."

Within the system, some are skeptical that hints of a split amount to much.

"This political reform debate remains more of a
rhetorical debate than an actual policy debate,
about how to define China’s democracy versus the
West’s," an editor with a party publication noted in a recent conversation.

"Perhaps some liberal media and intellectuals
once again want to make something of Wen’s recent
statements," he said. "But realistically, even if
he is sincere, all he can do is earn a better reputation for himself.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting, and
Benjamin Haas and Ashley Li contributed research.
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