China's ruling Communist Party called Wednesday for its members to reject Western-style democratic notions amid a brewing debate on the direction of future political reform.
In an editorial in its flagship People's Daily newspaper, the party criticized multiparty democracy and separation of powers as inefficient and divisive.
China's system of "socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics" has proven best suited to the country's conditions and must be upheld and strengthened, said the editorial, which is to be published in Thursday's paper but appeared on its website on Wednesday evening.
The editorial follows a series of bold calls for unspecified political reforms from Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize this month to imprisoned Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who urged reforms to the country's single-party Communist political system.
Wen's comments have been countered by statements from hard-liners criticizing any change that challenges the party's leadership. His most outspoken remarks have been censored by state media.
Liu's award, meanwhile, has embarrassed and angered the government, which has described the move as part of a Western plot to interfere in China's internal affairs and alter its political system.
Party cadres must "consciously draw a clear line between socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics and Western capitalist democracy," the editorial said.
"This has concrete, important and deep-seated significance for raising the entire party's political acuity and discernment ... clearing up mistakes about building democracy, and resisting the hostile forces' plot to Westernize and divide," the editorial said.
Wen has not proposed any concrete reforms, arguing only that China's political system must evolve to ensure continued economic growth. The party's last flirtation with political change came in the late 1980s, when reformers studied the possibility of electing leading party members, removing the party from some aspects of government and ensuring civil liberties such as freedom of speech.
Such research ended abruptly with the bloody suppression of the student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The two decades since then have brought no significant changes to the Leninist-style government, even while economic reforms have transformed China into a global financial superpower.
Wen's recent remarks, however, have inspired liberals both within and outside the party, with one elite group of retired party elders issuing an open letter to the national legislature this month calling for freedom of publication and an end to blanket censorship.