Chinese rights activists and political commentators dismissed outgoing president Hu Jintao's warnings about corruption in his state-of-the-nation address Thursday as nothing new, saying that any pledges of reform should be based on concrete plans with adherence to the rule of law.
In his speech to the 18th national congress that sets in motion a once-in-a-decade leadership change, Hu warned that the ruling Chinese Communist Party could be brought down by public anger over corruption, promising the Party would carry out "reform of the political structure."
But political commentators said the lip service to reform had been heard before.
"There is nothing new here; they have said all of this many times over ... including the warning about corruption bringing the Party down," said Xiao Jiansheng, editor of the state-run Hunan Daily newspaper.
He said the speech was empty in comparison with the work report delivered by late disgraced premier Zhao Ziyang to the 13th Party Congress in 1987.
"That [speech] was far more progressive, because it dealt with a division between Party and state," Xiao said. "A lot of Party committees in various organizations were abolished at that time."
"It also set up mechanisms for consultation with ordinary people and with students."
Xiao said that while Hu had also mentioned "consultation," the meaning was very far from the sense intended by Zhao, who had genuinely been working towards a change in China's political culture.
"Political reform is a core concept which inevitably will put limitations, checks and balances on power," he said. "It would also result in the protection of the rights of the individual."
Zhu Ruifeng, editor-in-chief of the anti-corruption website Supervision by the People, said Hu's speech had more to do with the recent ouster of former rising political star Bo Xilai and internal conflict within the Party, than with genuine anti-graft measures.
"If they are serious about fighting corruption, then they need to implement the rule of law," he said.
Hong Kong political commentator Fang Dehao agreed. "There has been no progress whatsoever on political reform, and no timetable," he said. "There are no actual plans to achieve it, other than an idea in principle."
Fang said that moves to include more grass-roots delegates in China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), amounted to no more than internal Party housekeeping.
"Under the current system, the delegates selected for the NPC are unable to act as genuine representatives of the people," he said.
Beijing-based veteran journalist Gao Yu said Hu's speech was "a joke."
"These guys have been in power for a decade, under the leadership of the Party, and corruption is far worse now than it was 10 years ago, let alone during the 1989 pro-democracy movement," she said.
"It's far worse than during the administration of Jiang Zemin, and they've been focusing on this, focusing on that, on improving the quality of Party members," Gao said.
"The responsibility lies with him; he's the president," she said. "Any talk of reform is in conflict with the leadership of the Party."
Gao also compared Hu's speech with that of Zhao at the 13th Party Congress.
"At the 13th Party Congress they were talking about separating Party and state, and limiting the Party's power to governing its own affairs," she said.
"The government was supposed to get more and more power, and civil groups were supposed to have the right to petition the government."
"That would be the path of reform, one step at a time," Gao said.
Meanwhile, activists in Hong Kong marched to Beijing's liaison office in the territory to petition the government to do more to protect the rights of its citizens.
Chanting "End forced evictions!", "Protect religious freedom!" and "Release all dissidents!" among other slogans, the group also called for an end to one-party rule in China.
Hong Kong legislator and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, who heads the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said a failure on the part of Beijing to implement genuine political reform would have an impact on the former British colony, which was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 amid promises it would keep its traditional freedoms.
"It's not enough for Hong Kong to pursue democracy; we want China to become democratic too," Lee said. "Only then can Hong Kong's freedom and democratic way of life be guaranteed."
"We hope that the Chinese people will stand up and fight for the power that is rightfully theirs."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.