We'll never copy West, vows Jiang

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CHINA'S PRESIDENT, Jiang Zemin, celebrated 20 years of economic reform yesterday with a vow that "from beginning to end, we must be vigilant against infiltration, subversive activities, and separatist activities of international and domestic hostile forces".

In the Great Hall of the People in Peking, set against a large golden hammer and sickle, Mr Jiang ruled out any shift from Communist ideology. "The system must not be shaken, weakened or discarded at any time," he said. "The Western mode of political systems must never be copied."

His words, on a day when the country was congratulating itself on the achievements of "socialism with Chinese characteristics", offered no suggestion that the leadership believe economic reforms may lead to a pluralistic system. On the contrary, Mr Jiang said the authorities must oppose the "hostile" forces "with a clear-cut stand and resolutely nip them in the bud".

To that end, China on Thursday put on trial two leading dissidents, 32- year-old Wang Youcai and Qin Yongmin, 49. Both court hearings lasted just a few hours, and yesterday there was still no verdict or sentence.

Human rights activists expect the two men to receive heavy jail terms as punishment for their attempt to register an opposition group, the China Democracy Party. Both defended themselves and pleaded not guilty to charges of "inciting the subversion of state power". Legal representation proved impossible after the police detained one lawyer who wanted to act for Mr Wang and gave Mr Qin only three days' notice of his court appearance.

Yesterday, Mr Jiang made it clear that the Communist Party would accept no opposition, and that any political reform must be "orderly and step by step" - and on the party's terms.

The 75-minute speech, before an audience of 6,000 top officials, was long on classic Chinese political rhetoric and short on any vision for the next stage of reform. The ruling Communist Party's policy of "seizing opportunity, deepening reforms, expanding, opening up, promoting development and maintaining stability is absolutely correct," Mr Jiang said.

Twenty years ago the late Deng Xiaoping set China on the path of economic reform after decades of disastrous central planning and a series of tragic political campaigns. The "reform and opening up" policies of Mr Deng transformed most people's lives.