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China's premier says country needs 'urgent' reform

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-14

China's outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday that the country needed "urgent" political and economic reform and a change in its leadership system as he gave his final press conference at the annual session of parliament.

AFP - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday that China could see a repeat of the Cultural Revolution without "urgent" political reform, during his final press conference as prime minister.

Wen, widely considered the most progressive of China's leaders, made the dramatic comments at a news conference marking the end of the annual session of parliament -- the last of his 10-year tenure, which is drawing to a close.

"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.

"New problems that have cropped up in China's society will not be fundamentally resolved, and 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 after other leaders sought to move away from his radical utopian ideas.

Untold numbers died in the turmoil as students turned on teachers, officials were purged and the country and its economy were brought to a virtual standstill. The subject is still sensitive today.

Wen has mentioned the need for political reform in one-party, authoritarian China before, although he has never fully elaborated on what this would entail, and his comments on Wednesday were the strongest yet on the subject.

In March last year -- at the same press conference -- he called for "gradual" political reform under the "leadership of the (Communist) party", and he made similar comments in 2010.

However, political analysts have in the past downplayed the significance of Wen's comments, saying he may be paying lip service to reform and democracy.

The ruling communists maintain an iron grip on political power and go to great lengths to crush challenges to their rule, and other leaders have in the past ruled out any shift to multi-party democracy.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said last year a multi-party political system would unleash chaos equal to the turbulent period of the Cultural Revolution, in apparent contradiction of Wen's comments.

Wen said he was driven by "a strong sense of responsibility" when making the comments on political reform.

"The reform can only go forward, the reform must not stand still, and still less go backwards because that offers no way out," he said.

Date created : 2012-03-14

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