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Calls for reform in China censored

A group of former Communist Party officials has weighed in on a debate over political reform, censorship and China's premier criticising the party's Central Propaganda Department as an “invisible black hand” strong enough to censor the PM and calling for an end to government control of media.

world Updated: Oct 15, 2010 02:22 IST

A group of former Communist Party officials has weighed in on a debate over political reform, censorship and China's premier criticising the party's Central Propaganda Department as an “invisible black hand” strong enough to censor the PM and calling for an end to government control of media.

The criticism, contained in an open letter that surfaced Wednesday and was itself widely censored, comes at a sensitive time, as the leadership continues to grapple for a response to the selection of jailed pro-democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo as this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.

News of Liu's Nobel has largely been confined to official statements criticising the decision. The message came from 23 mostly retired former party officials and intellectuals and was prompted by the censorship of recent comments from Premier Wen Jiabao about the need for political reform in China.

In August, during a visit to Shenzhen, Wen said: “Without the safeguard of political reform, the fruits of economic reform would be lost...”

His remarks were covered extensively in Hong Kong but were never reported in most of the strictly controlled mainland press. His remarks to the UN General Assembly were similarly vetted in the media.

Political analysts see various possible meanings in this debate. Some have suggested Wen could be playing a role in a kind of “good cop, bad cop” scenario, in which the premier talks soothingly for outside audiences, knowing that his remarks will never reach an audience inside China. The “bad cop” would be Hu Jintao, China's President.

Analysts said the fact that Wen's words can get censored within China shows that in the current collective leadership, even the premier represents just one faction, and that competing powerful elements, particularly the Propaganda Department, still hold sway. “Even the national leadership is subjected to it,” Bandurski said.

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