03/14/2012, 00.00
CHINA
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For Wen Jiabao, economic and political reforms are an "urgent task"

by Wang Zhicheng
The premier says another Cultural Revolution is a real danger. He admits to problems, such as the divide between rich and poor, the party's credibility gap and the corruption of its members. However, he has little to say about solutions. He reiterates the need for price controls to avoid a real estate bubble and promises that the yuan will float more freely. He acknowledges that he should have had direct meetings with people. Yet, hundreds of petitioners were recently either sent home or arrested.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Premier Wen Jiabao said his country needed "urgent" economic and political reforms. Without them, it might face more tragedies like the Cultural Revolution.

"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 said.

"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 added.

In fact, "New problems that have cropped up in China's society will not be fundamentally resolved," he explained, "and such historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again."

A visibly emotional Wen met the local and foreign press at a news conference marking the end of the annual session of the People's National Congress, perhaps his last as prime minister since he is stepping down in October to give way to China's fifth generation of leaders.

This is not the first time Wen makes such an appeal. Last year and the year before, also at the end of the NPC's annual meeting, the outgoing prime minister stressed the importance of political reforms.

In 2010, during a trip in Guangdong, he had made similar statements, which were censored in the official media. Today however, Xinhua prominently carried the premier's remarks.

Yet, it is hard to know what he really means by "political reforms". As the regime's Mr Nice Guy, Wen has acknowledged the existence of a huge gap between haves and have-nots. Similarly, he has spoken about the party's credibility gap and the corruption of its members. However, unlike some party liberals who have called for a multiparty democracy, Wen has never gone beyond generalities.

Even when he says that reforms are an "urgent task", he is cautious to say that they must be "gradual", focusing on extending democracy to rural villages where anti-party resistance is strong because of neglect, industrial pollution, land grabs and property seizures.

Wen has also not gone beyond generalities in his calls for economic reforms. In his latest speech, he said that the government would continue to keep real estate prices under control to avoid a speculative bubble. Yet, recently the People's Bank of China eased once again bank lending to sustain the economy, something that has pushed up real estate prices to unreasonable levels.

Wen was equally vague about the yuan. Whilst saying that his government would allow it to float more freely in the market, he also noted that it "is possibly near an equilibrium level".

Conscious that he is at the end of his term in office, the premier also conceded that he ''should assume responsibility'' for the country's problems during his time in office.

Furthermore, he said the government should create the conditions in which ordinary people would feel free to criticise its actions.

At the same time, he said he had thought about direct meetings with representatives of the population to discuss topics of interest to them. Despite such good will, little has come of it.

In the days preceding the NPC meeting, hundreds of petitioners travelled to Beijing to meet the country's leaders and present their questions and complaints. Instead, they were promptly arrested and sent home or to 'black prisons'.

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