By James Pomfret
LONDON (Reuters) - Premier Wen Jiabao called on Monday for freedom and real democracy in China, even though Beijing has clamped down on dissent this year following scattered online calls for a "Jasmine" revolution similar to uprisings in the Arab world.
Speaking on a visit to Britain, Wen also said corruption and income disparities were harming people's lives in China.
"Without freedom there is no real democracy and without the guarantee of economic and political rights there is no real freedom," he said in a speech in London.
"To be frank corruption, unfair income distribution and other ills that harm the people's interests still exist in China," he told an audience at the Royal Society, an institution devoted to scientific development and promotion.
"The best way to resolve these problems is to firmly advance the political structural reform and socialist democracy under the rule of law," said Wen, who is due to retire next year.
Wen is known to have reformist tendencies amongst China's ruling elite with earlier speeches and editorials urging the need for political reforms to safeguard economic growth.
In reality, however, an upcoming once-a-decade leadership transition and an inherently conservative ideology amongst broader party ranks make the likelihood of far-reaching reforms a remote possibility at most.
Before Wen's short visit to Europe, China released artist and activist Ai Weiwei last week whose detention drew widespread criticism abroad. One of China's most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, was also freed on Sunday after serving 3-1/2 years in jail on subversion charges.
China's Communist Party has cracked down on dissent since February, responding to fears that uprisings across the Arab world could also inspire challenges to its one-party rule, especially before the leadership succession late in 2012.
Outside the building where Wen was speaking, groups of Tibetan activists denounced Beijing's rule in the region.
Wen, who retires next year after almost 10 years as Premier and the third-highest ranking Communist Party official, flies to Berlin on Monday after also visiting Hungary during a short European trip.
Wen has cast himself as a servant of the people and met people with grievances. However, he ultimately lacks a factional following in the elite that could give his calls a wider currency.
Earlier at a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Wen said China would have improved democracy and rule of law in future. "Tomorrow's China will be a more open and inclusive, culturally advance and harmonious society and country," he said. "A country or a nation will only grow and progress only when it is open and inclusive."
(editing by David Stamp)