BEIJING — Chinese President Jiang Zemin on Friday applauded 20 years of economic reforms that have pulled millions of his people out of poverty, but he vowed that China will never adopt a Western-style democratic political system.
Addressing an assembly of the Communist Party elite here in the capital, Jiang declared that the present system "must not be shaken, weakened or discarded." He added that "the Western mode of political systems must never be copied."
His comments came a day after China put two political activists on trial for their efforts to establish an opposition party to challenge the supremacy of the Communists.
Jiang's 75-minute speech, carried live on state television, underscored the widening gulf between China's increasingly go-go capitalist economy and the closed regime that runs it.
Friday marked the 20th anniversary of a key Communist Party meeting in which Jiang's predecessor, the late Deng Xiaoping, shunted aside decades of ideological turmoil and revolution under Mao Tse-tung in favor of efforts to revive the moribund Chinese economy through market-oriented policies.
The reforms have brought a remarkable rise in China's standard of living during the past two decades, leading Jiang to urge his audience of party and military leaders to "hold high the banner" of Deng's reforms.
However, he called on the government to fight "subversive activities and separatist activities of international and domestic hostile forces"--code words for those who press for political pluralism or advocate independence for areas such as Tibet and western Xinjiang province, a hotbed of Muslim resistance against Beijing.
Besides commemorating the 20th anniversary, Jiang's remarks seemed clearly timed to give a forceful defense of the high-profile trials that began Thursday of two dissidents who had tried to register the fledgling China Democracy Party with their local authorities. The pair, Wang Youcai and Qin Yongmin, were arrested last month and charged with plotting to "incite subversion." Both have pleaded innocent.
A third supporter of the fledgling opposition party, Xu Wenli--one of China's best-known dissidents--will go on trial Monday, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported Friday.
Trials of dissidents in China nearly always result in guilty verdicts.
The proceedings against Wang and Qin, part of a nationwide crackdown on the China Democracy Party's supporters, have put a chill on speculation about imminent political reform in China.
In his speech, Jiang said that any political reform must be "orderly" and "step by step."