Momentum Slows For Political Reform In China China's political elite have just promoted the man likely to be their next leader and issued a communique laying out the country's future direction. The developments seem to put an end to talk of steps toward democracy, despite raised hopes after remarks by China's premier.
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Momentum Slows For Political Reform In China

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Momentum Slows For Political Reform In China

Momentum Slows For Political Reform In China

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China's political elite have just promoted the man who is likely to be their next leader. They have also issued a release laying out the country's future and it seems to put an end to talk of political reform. China's own prime minister had recently raised hopes by repeatedly calling for political change.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports on whether or not the issue of reform has divided China's leadership.

LOUISA LIM: Imagine a country where even the premier is censored. That's the situation here in China. Over the past few weeks, Premier Wen Jiabao has made seven calls for political reform. For a while, it seemed as if these calls had given new life to old hopes for change.

Premier WEN JIABAO (People's Republic of China): (Through Translator) The people's wishes for, and need for democracy and freedom are irresistible.

LIM: That was Premier Wen speaking through an interpreter on CNN.

But then the propaganda ministry ordered all websites to delete any references to this interview. Before that, 23 party elders had signed an open letter of support. Jiang Ping was among them, and he doesn't doubt Wen's sincerity.

Mr. JIANG PING (National People's Congress, China): (Through Translator) Reform of the political system can't be postponed. Every day it's postponed is more dangerous. But we are not that powerful. We're considered dissidents within the party who don't have much right to speak.

LIM: Just how little influence they have is only now becoming clear. The central committee communique has just one half sentence devoted to political reform. Its boilerplate some say, repeated year after year.

Wen Jiabao remains in a minority of one in the top leadership when it comes to reform, according to Willy Wo-Lap Lam, long-time China analyst at Japan's Akita International University. He believes China's premier has his eye on his historical legacy.

Mr. WILLY WO-LAP LAM (China Analyst, Akita International University): Wen, who is a consummate bureaucrat, realizes better than anybody else there is actually zero possibility that his ideas will be translated into action. It's just perhaps pacifying opinion in the West and also appealing to the younger generation.

LIM: Others are more cynical still. Author Yu Jie recently wrote a highly critical book about the premier titled "Wen Jiabao: China's Best Actor." Needless to say, it's banned in China. Yu Jie, who is under house arrest, said in a telephone interview he believes Wen is simply mouthing his lines.

Mr. YU JIE (Author, "Wen Jiabao: China's Best Actor): (Through Translator) This is a collective decision by the Politburo to make the premier play a very moderate role, calling for political reform. This is a fraud, which relieves people's anger and dissatisfaction. He's talked a lot, but he's done nothing.

Unidentified Person: (Speaking foreign language).

(Soundbite of gunfire)

LIM: Much now rests on the man who received a critical promotion during the recent meeting. Xi Jinping, who coordinated last year's 60th anniversary military parade, was just named as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. It's a stepping stone to the top job, party secretary, which is expected to be his in two years' time.

Xi is a princeling, the son of a revolutionary elder. But Willy Lam says he's a compromise candidate, innocuous enough to offend none, with few leanings towards political reform.

Mr. LAM: Xi Jinping himself is a conservative in ideological matters. This is very clear. In general as a princeling, he puts the utmost importance on the party remaining China's so-called perennial ruling party.

LIM: And the recent award of the Nobel Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo may just end up strengthening hardliners. For those with liberal leanings, like Hu Xingdou from Beijing Institute of Technology, this past week has been sobering.

Professor HU XINGDOU (Professor of Economics, Beijing Institute of Technology): (Through Translator): I'm a little disappointed because right now China is in crisis. If there are no political reforms, we won't be able to solve social problems like corruption, mass demonstrations and conflicts between officials and ordinary people.

LIM: This serves to remind the outside world that China's Communist Party isn't monolithic. There are different factions, pushing in different directions. But at this point in time, engrossed in a coming leadership transition, those in charge clearly value stability of the regime above all else.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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