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Winds of change in Wen Jiabao’s words

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s latest praise for the ‘indispensable’ freedom of speech and people’s ‘irresistible’ wish for democracy has not been as freely reported in his own Party-backed media. Reshma Patil reports

world Updated: Oct 07, 2010 23:37 IST
Reshma Patil

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s latest praise for the ‘indispensable’ freedom of speech and people’s ‘irresistible’ wish for democracy has not been as freely reported in his own Party-backed media.

“I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country, a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong,’’ Wen told CNN, in his first interview since two years to the western media.

For the first time, Wen has hinted that his views face ‘some resistance’. “I will not fall in spite of the strong wind and harsh rain, and I will not yield until the last day of my life,” he said when questioned about putting his speeches in action.

Wen said that he believes, and ‘all Chinese people have such a conviction that China will make continuous progress and people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible’. China’s idea of political restructuring and democracy is not defined with the same sweep as the west. But

Wen’s pro-reform comments, growing more persistent this year, aim to soften rising China’s image abroad and send a message to watchful netizens that the leadership is debating reform.

On an online chat in February, Wen said only democracy can help sustain governance. This year, he praised Hu Yaobang, an official booted out of the Party in 1987 for his pro-reform stance. In August, to mark the 30th year of reforms in Shenzhen, he said modernisation would fail unless economic and political restructuring went together.

“I often say that we should not only let people have freedom of speech, we more importantly must create conditions to let them criticise the work of the government,’’ Wen said, adding that he surfs Chinese views about the Party. “Only when there is the supervision and critical oversight from people that the government will be in a position to do an even better job.”

Translations of the transcript are popping up on Chinese blogs more than official websites, sparking a debate whether the winds of change in China’s political system and promise of ‘political restructuring’ will amount to anything. On Thursday, a transcript belatedly landed on the Party’s People’s Daily forum.