China: Economic reform yes, but political? Look what happened to Gorbachev

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Further economic reform has over the past week been given the green light in China; but that doesn't mean reform in other areas is on the agenda. The gamble is that so long as the economy grows, the lid can be kept on demands for political change.

China points to the failed Gorbachev reform era in the Soviet Union, when a political thaw preceded economic restructuring, as a terrible lesson for Marxists who wish to survive in the global marketplace. But will China be able to handle the stresses when economic change so outstrips political opening?

There has been some political change. People no doubt have more personal freedom now. But that does not extend to political liberties, and President Jiang Zemin's keynote speech a week ago offered no prescription for this to alter. There is no evidence that the Communists envisage relinquishing their monopoly.

Mr Jiang did stress that steps must be taken to establish the "rule of law", even if the impetus is to keep foreign investors happy. But in a system rotten with corruption, no one is addressing how this can happen if the people in power are unaccountable and the media is kept on such a tight leash.