China adviser drops bombshell in call for reforms

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BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) A provincial Chinese government adviser has urged Communist leaders to lift a ban on new political parties, halt suppression of a spiritual sect and let exiled dissidents return home in a rare and bold move by an establishment figure.

In an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, Wang Zhaojun argued that dramatic political reforms were needed to deal with a plethora of problems -- a roller-coaster stock market, inflationary pressures, rising real estate prices, regional imbalances and dire poverty.

''Release all political prisoners and welcome home overseas pro-democracy figures to jointly establish a democratic China,'' wrote Wang, 59, a Standing Committee member of an advisory body to the Anhui provincial legislature in eastern China.

Breaking sensitive taboos, Wang called for political rehabilitation of both the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned as a cult in 1999, and reappraisal of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests crushed by the army in 1989.

''At present, most urgent is: stop persecution of the Falun Gong!'' wrote Wang, a soldier-turned-businessman.

He also recommended depoliticising the People's Liberation Army and allowing multi-party politics with parties ''taking turns governing'' -- also taboo topics for the Communist Party which has ruled the world's most populous nation unchallenged since 1949.

''Through votes, (let the people) choose a legitimate, competent and accountable government that is supported by a majority of people and recognised by all in society,'' according to the open letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

Wang, reached by telephone, confirmed he wrote the 60-page open letter on October 22.

Asked why he risked political repercussions, he told Reuters that he was frustrated with ''bureaucracy'' when he paid a courtesy call on the cabinet's State Environmental Protection Administration, apparently to do business.

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC STRAINS The bombshell dropped by Wang has been the talk of liberal intellectuals, many of whom have also called for political reforms, albeit much milder in nature.

At a recent forum hosted by Reuters, academics said China needed bolder moves to address social and economic strains.

Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University, said the government should adjust its policy of ''maintaining stability (as) a top priority'' because it has hindered political reforms for the last two decades.

Wang's open letter came on the heels of the Communist Party's 17th Congress last month when Hu emerged stronger by promoting allies to key posts and retiring rivals.

The letter said despite speculation that Hu's and Wen's powers were still limited, the pair should not drag their feet on political change.

Rapid growth was not sustainable with a yawning wealth gap, nvironmental degradation and waste of resources, Wang wrote.

Wang complained about social inequality with state workers laid off after state assets fell into private hands. But he wrote that privatising land may curb clashes over land grabs.

He pressed the leadership to free all political prisoners and respect free speech.

Turning to Taiwan, which China claims as its own, Wang wrote that democracy on the island may be chaotic with fistfights erupting in parliament, but it is ''out in the open and better than the scheming and intrigues of palace politics and the sound of sharpening knives''.

REUTERS SG VC1015

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