South China Morning Post
By Priscilla Jiao

Wen Jiabao

The mainland media’s call for political reform is gathering steam, with several national and provincial newspapers joining the campaign.

The latest calls for change come ahead of tomorrow’s Communist Party plenary session and follow high-profile statements by Premier Wen Jiabao.

The Communist Youth League-affiliated China Youth Daily; The Beijing News; Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post; the Changjiang Daily in Wuhan , Hubei ; the Xinhua-affiliated Modern Express in Nanjing , Jiangsu ; the Xiaoxiang Morning Post in Changsha, Hunan ; and the Southern Rural News in Guangzhou have all published articles focusing either on Wen’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine’s Asia edition or his calls for political reform over the past two weeks.Prominent, full-page packages appeared yesterday in the Xiaoxiang Morning Post and Modern Express, which have a total circulation of 1.5 million, mostly in Jiangsu and Hunan provinces. The articles covered Wen’s calls for political reform and related analysis on the reforms’ prospects. The Xiaoxiang Morning Post’s coverage headlined “China is about to launch the third 30-year reform”, was censored online yesterday although the one-page, milder Modern Express report remained.

Mainland media seem to be seizing the momentum to call for political reform in the run-up to the fifth plenary session of the current Central Committee.

During the meeting, to be presided over by party general secretary Hu Jintao, the leadership will study suggestions on the strategically significant 12th Five-Year Programme for national economic and social development. The meeting will focus on major issues hindering sound development.

Wen called for political reform seven times in the 43 days between August 22 and October 3, ending with a pledge on CNN to advance democratic reform. “I will not yield until the last day of my life in spite of strong winds and harsh rain,” Wen said.

Yu Keping , deputy bureau chief of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, was cited by Xinhua on Tuesday as saying he expected the party plenary would unveil the third 30-year reform, which would likely focus on social and political reforms.

The article also appeared in the Oriental Morning Post yesterday and dozens of websites including China News Service, the second biggest state-owned news agency, and the China Daily, one of two national English-language newspapers.

Yu said the party and the government would deliver reform based on democracy and the rule of law. It would be part of efforts to carry out democratic elections, policymaking and management, and to ensure that the people would be informed and be allowed to express themselves and participate in government. All efforts were meant to build “good governance”.

Yu’s comments came the same day as a group of well-known former political officials and media professionals published an open letter to the top legislature demanding freedom of press and the abolition of media censorship.

Hundreds of people across the country have signed the letter in recent days.

The document echoed Wen’s comment to CNN: “I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country, a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong. Freedom of speech has been incorporated into the Chinese constitution.”

Zhan Jiang , a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said Yu’s remarks in Modern Express and Xinhua should be a reliable indication that political reform would be discussed during the plenary session.

“The situation has become more upbeat compared with the first half of the year, when many believed the political environment had gone backwards,” Zhan said. “While we anticipate that political reform will be a main discussion subject, we need to be wary that it might be another illusion, like a cycle of history.”