Wen calls for urgent political reforms
AFP BEIJING CHINA could see a repeat of the Cultural Revolution’s deadly chaos without “urgent” political reform, Wen Jiabao warned on Wednesday in a dramatic parting shot at his final news conference as premier.
Wen is widely considered the most progressive of China’s leaders, but analysts said the comments, at the closing of the annual parliamentary session, were his strongest call yet for political reform in the one-party state.
“We must press ahead with both economic structural reform and political structural reform, in particular reform in the leadership system of our party and country,” he told reporters, adding it was an “urgent task”.
“Without a successful political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform and the gains we have made in this area may be lost,” he said. “Such historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again.” The 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution was a decade of brutal chaos launched by revolutionary leader Mao Zedong to bring down what he perceived as “capitalist” forces.
Untold numbers died in the turmoil as students turned on teachers and officials were purged, and that period still haunts the older Chinese generation today.
Wen’s comments came after China’s parliament passed into law changes to the criminal law that give police the power to detain some suspects in secret locations known as “black jails”.
The 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the legal amendments, which have been widely criticised.
But experts said an eleventh-hour change to the bill obliging police to inform relatives of those placed in informal detention within 24 hours was a victory for legal reformists.
It is the last time Wen will speak at the parliament’s closing press conference — his successor will be appointed at the 2013 NPC — and the premier was visibly emotional.
“The reference to the risk of a new Cultural Revolution is the strongest statement ever made by Wen Jiabao on the urgency of carrying out political reforms,” said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By political reforms he doesn’t mean democratisation but rather a series of reforms that go beyond technocratic tinkering — establishing a real rule of law, enfranchising workers.” Wen is the only leader to have repeatedly spoken of the need for political reform in China, although critics have accused him of paying lip service to the issue.
Wen also hinted at the need to give people more of a say in the one-party state, saying villagers had the right to direct elections at the local-level.
But China’s ruling Communist Party — which controls the army and the government — maintains an iron grip on political power, and other leaders have in the past ruled out any shift to multiparty democracy.
Analysts also said Wen’s warning on the Cultural Revolution could be an oblique criticism of Bo Xilai, head of the southwestern city of Chongqing, who has launched a Maoist revival campaign that has sparked concern among liberals.