15.3.12

Wen Jiabao attacks party conservatives on the way out the door | via @FinancialTimes

(Source: FT.com)

Premier Wen Jiabao©Getty

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao fired a parting shot at conservative officials in the ruling Communist party, warning them that China could face another Cultural Revolution unless it undertakes urgent political reforms.

 

“Without 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,” Mr Wen said at his farewell briefing at the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber stamp parliament which meets for just 10 days every year.

 

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“New problems that have cropped up in Chinese society will not be fundamentally resolved and such a historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again,” the premier added, in remarks that were broadcast live on national television. “The mistake of the Cultural Revolution and impact of feudalism are yet to be fully eliminated.”

 

Mr Wen, who will step down from the party’s powerful politburo standing committee later this year, directed his aim at rivals including Bo Xilai.

Mr Bo is the ruling party official in Chongqing, a large city in southwest China, and a candidate for promotion to the top ranks of the party in the upcoming leadership transition. His propects, however, have been damaged by a recent scandal involving Chongqing’s former police chief.

 

Mr Wen’s references to the anarchy of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, during which millions of people were persecuted and perished, appeared to be a swipe at the “Cultural Revolution-style” campaigns organised by Mr Bo in Chongqing. The campaigns evoke revolutionary, or “red”, propaganda and ostensibly target organised crime.

 

In another rare example of open criticism among senior Communist party officials, Mr Wen also addressed the scandal that brought down Mr Bo’s former police chief and political ally, Wang Lijun, who tried to defect to the US last month. Mr Wang is in custody and his case is under investigation.

“The current [Chongqing] party committee and government of Chongqing must seriously reflect on the Wang Lijun incident and learn lessons from this incident,” Mr Wen said.

 

As Mr Wen and President Hu Jintao prepare to make way for a new generation of leaders in a once-in-a-decade reshuffle, the country’s political elite are engaged in internecine strugglesthat will determine the national agenda for years to come. Mr Bo has been angling for a place on the nine-person Politburo standing committee, the Communist party’s most powerful body.

 

“There are obviously some conflicts [among China’s political elite], with the most important conflicts related to the distribution of power within the party,” said He Weifang, a law professor at Beijing University. “There are also different views over how to solve China’s social problems, including the wealth distribution problem, corruption and China’s relations with the outside world.”

 

During a three-hour press conference, Mr Wen outlined a liberal reform agenda, including gradual steps towards direct elections. While Mr Wen has commented about the need for such reform before, he has rarely done so in such forceful language.

 

Asked whether China would hold general elections to choose its leaders, Mr Wen said he believed lower-level village elections should be expanded to towns and counties: “The democratic system of China will continue to move forward in keeping with China’s national conditions and no force will be able to hold this process back.”

 

Referring to the wave of uprisings sweeping across the Middle East, Mr Wen was more emphatic in his support for free elections. “The demand for democracy by the Arab people must be respected and truly responded to,” he said. “I believe this trend towards democracy cannot be held back by any force.”

 

Mr Wen has often been criticised for failing to match his rhetoric with action. He alluded to this criticism on Wednesday, blaming “institutional and other factors” for his inability to push through some policies and reforms. He also referred to unspecified “slander” directed at him personally and said these attacks made him “worried about society”.

 

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