BEIJING — A leading Chinese official Tuesday declared a commitment to protect the rights of China's often beleaguered scientists and other intellectuals and improve their working and living conditions.
Song Jian, minister in charge of the State Science and Technology Commission, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee and a scientist, attempted to reassure fellow Chinese scientists and other intellectuals that the party will not persecute them as it has numerous times in the past.
But Song, speaking at a news conference, stopped short of saying the party would tolerate a diversity of political views, as proposed by one of China's best-known dissidents, astrophysicist Fang Lizhi. He said that Fang is free to do research and travel abroad, but that he does not have the qualifications to comment on politics.
One of the party's main aims in recent years has been to recruit more intellectuals for the country's economic and technological modernization. For decades, the party relied heavily on peasant recruits.
According to recently released official figures, over the last five years the party has recruited more than 1.2 million new members who are professionals or intellectuals. But more than 18 million of the party's 46 million members are peasants, an official spokesman said.
A number of intellectuals, such as Fang and university students who consider him a hero, have demanded Western-style political freedoms. Fang was expelled from the Communist Party earlier this year, but the action seemed to enhance his prestige among some intellectuals.
"The Central Committee . . . will take more measures to further improve the living and working conditions of intellectuals," Song said.
In another development, the Communist Party said Tuesday there will be a choice of candidates in elections to the ruling Central Committee for the first time in the party's 66-year history.
Western analysts, however, said the change was largely cosmetic and will have little effect on the composition of the new Central Committee to be elected during the current National Party Congress.