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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."

Elite China think-tank issues political reform blueprint

February 20, 2008

BEIJING, Feb 19 (Reuters) - China risks dangerous instability unless
it embraces democratic reforms to limit the power of the ruling
Communist Party, foster competitive voting and rein in censors, the
Party's top think-tank has warned in a new report.
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The "comprehensive political system reform plan" by scholars at the
Central Party School in Beijing argues for steady liberalisation that
its authors say can build a "modern civil society" by 2020 and "mature
democracy and rule of law" in later decades.

The cost of delaying this course could be economic disarray and
worsening corruption and public discontent, they write in "Storming
the Fortress: A Research Report on China's Political System Reform
after the 17th Party Congress".

"Citizens' steadily rising democratic consciousness and the grave
corruption among Party and government officials make it increasing
urgent to press ahead with demands for political system reform," the
report states. "The backwardness of the political system is affecting
economic development."

The report was finished in October, just after the Party's
twice-a-decade congress ended and gave President Hu Jintao five more
years as party chief. But it is only now appearing in some Beijing
bookstores.

This is no manifesto for outright democracy. The authors say the Party
must keep overall control and "elite" decision-making will help China
achieve lasting economic prosperity by pushing past obstacles to
economic reform.

But the 366-page report give a strikingly detailed blueprint of how
some elite advisers see political relaxation unfolding, with three
phases of reform in the next 12 years, including restricting the
Party's powers and expanding the rights of citizens, reporters,
religious believers and lawmakers.

"Until now political reform has been scattered and inconsequential,"
Wang Guixiu, a professor at the Party School not involved in the
study, told Reuters. "Real political reform needs a substantive plan
of action, and there are some scholars and officials who believe
that's what is needed now."

The authors include Zhou Tianyong and Wang Changjiang, senior
reform-minded scholars at the School, which trains officials for
higher office. The report also has a preface by Li Junru, a government
adviser and vice president of the Party School.

Several authors contacted for comment declined to comment.

UNSETTLING SOCIAL CHANGES

The authors argue that government regulation of news is needed as
China navigates unsettling social changes. But the present system of
secretive and often arbitrary censorship is stoking corruption and
public distrust of government, they said.

"Freedom of the press is an inevitable trend," they said, calling for
a law to protect reporters and "effectively halt unconstitutional and
unlawful interference in media activities".

They also urge greater official respect for religion -- a sensitive
topic in China, where the atheist Party is wary of growing numbers of
Christians, and unrest in Buddhist Tibet and the largely Muslim region
of Xinjiang in the country's far west.

"Political faith and religious faith are not in contradiction," the
scholars said.

They propose that China's nearly 3,000-delegate national parliament be
slimmed down and given direct powers to set the budget and audit
government spending.

Candidates for legislatures should be allowed to actively compete for
votes, which is now banned, the authors said. And the Communist Party
itself must bind itself under rule of law.

Communist Party chief Hu has promoted limited "inner-Party democracy"
to expose officials to more checks, but has shown no appetite for
broad political liberalisation.

In a speech on Monday, Hu said the Party had to be a "staunch
leadership core" that maintained "flesh-and-blood bonds" with the
people, Xinhua news agency reported.

But the Party School report, with its detailed arguments for change,
and other books and essays from reformist advisers in the past year,
suggest that some senior advisers have been thinking closely about
much more ambitious reforms.

A recent survey of mid-ranking officials studying at the Party School
indicated that growing numbers believe deeper political reform is
needed.

In the survey of 154 officials conducted in late 2007, 55.5 percent
nominated the "political system" as one of three areas of reform that
most "concerned" them, according to a study recently published by the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In late 2005, 40 percent of officials surveyed listed political reform
as one of the areas.
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