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China party newspaper criticizes Western democracy

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BEIJING — China’s Communist Party newspaper on Thursday issued a scathing attack on Western-style democracy amid growing calls for reform of the country’s political system.

The People’s Daily editorial is the latest in a flurry of attacks on Western political institutions to appear in party propaganda organs in recent weeks.

Those follow bold calls for unspecified political reforms from Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize this month to imprisoned Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who had urged an end to single-party rule.

The People’s Daily editorial blasted concepts such as multiparty democracy and separation of powers as unsuited to China, and praised the country’s authoritarian socialist system as the best way of concentrating resources and accomplishing major tasks.

Western democracies were founded on colonization, exploitation and slavery, and would crumble if not for welfare payments to their underprivileged citizens, it said.

"If our country was to indiscriminately copy the Western way, we would lose the foundational thinking of shared struggle, lose the robustness of core leadership, and the country would turn into a sheet of loose sand," the editorial said, using a traditional term for disunity and chaos.

The article, titled "The Western Political Model Cannot be Duplicated," did not mention either Wen or Liu by name and, in keeping with the party’s habitual secrecy and opacity, appeared open to interpretation.

The awarding of the Nobel prize to Liu has galvanized China’s embattled dissident community and enraged party conservatives who appear to be responding with a campaign of vilification of Western political concepts. Liu is serving an 11-year prison term on subversion charges and his wife and other prominent dissidents have been under house arrest since the award was announced.

Wen’s comments, meanwhile, have been countered by statements from hard-liners criticizing any reform that challenges the party’s leadership. His most outspoken remarks have been censored by state media.

Wen, who ranks third in the party and is due to step down from his positions beginning in 2012, has not proposed any concrete reforms, arguing only that China’s political system must evolve to ensure continued economic growth. The party’s last flirtation with political change came in the late 1980s, when reformers studied the possibility of electing leading party members, removing the party from some aspects of government and ensuring civil liberties such as freedom of speech.

Such research ended abruptly with the bloody suppression of the student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The two decades since then have brought no significant changes to the Leninist-style government, even while economic reforms have transformed China into a global financial superpower.

However, Wen’s recent remarks appear to have inspired liberals both within and outside the party, with one elite group of retired party elders issuing an open letter to the national legislature this month calling for freedom of publication and an end to blanket censorship.

Analysts say Wen, who is widely popular with the Chinese public, is primarily interested in leaving a liberal legacy, but has no real interest in pushing meaningful reforms that could push the system toward a transformation.

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