In the wake of a damning U.S. human rights report and attempts to limit the damage from a huge political scandal, the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Thursday hit out at those trying to promote democracy and human rights.
In a signed commentary titled "What Is a Scientific Democracy?" the People's Daily, the official Party newspaper, said Western-style democracy is the "fake politics" of a minority and slammed what it called "bourgeois" democratic values.
"From the very beginning, bourgeois democracy has been the democracy of a minority," the article said. "It carries with it hypocrisy and fakery."
Professor Xia Ming, a political science teacher at the College of Staten Island in New York, said the article, which was published on the same day as the U.S. government's annual rights report slamming China's treatment of dissidents, was an attempt to criticize "Western" democracy from a Marxist perspective.
The U.S. State Department, which recently negotiated a last-minute deal with China to allow blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng to leave that country with his family and study law in New York, accused Beijing of stepping up efforts to silence activists and stifle public debate during the past year.
"In China, the human rights situation deteriorated, particularly the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association," the 2011 human rights report said.
China, which saw an unprecedented crackdown on rights activists and political dissidents, has also stepped up controls over ethnic minority populations in Tibet and Xinjiang, it added.
Amid "severe repression" of the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement, Beijing "continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detentions, and house arrests," the report said.
Xia said that Chinese political thinking is largely constructed around maintaining the Party in power, rather than ensuring people have the right to change their government.
"The rule of the people comes second to the leadership of the Party," Xia said. "The Chinese Communist Party rules by special powers in every aspect of politics."
But he added, "It is clear that such special powers are inconsistent with the rule of law."
Zhongshan University professor Liang Biqi said the article, which called Western-style "bourgeois" democracy fake and hypocritical, was trying to depict an independent strand of political thought in China, which wouldn't be swayed by overseas ideologies.
"From the point of view of Americans, the U.S. democratic system is a very good one, and only people who disagree with it would call it fake," Liang said.
But he added, "People evaluate things differently when their national situations are different ... It isn't likely that we would see a U.S.-style system implemented in [China] right now."
He said China's leaders are gradually expanding people's say in government, however. "For example, our elections are gradually being extended to higher and higher levels," Liang said.
Reports have pointed to intense factional power struggles among China's political elite ahead of a key leadership transition and amid fierce internal debate over who will form China's next generation of leaders.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has demanded that senior Communist Party officials stifle tensions over the ousting of former Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai and show unity as they prepare for a change of leadership, Reuters news agency reported on Friday.
Hu urged the party to close ranks at a meeting of about 200 officials early this month at a Beijing hotel, declaring the downfall of Bo to be an "isolated case," the agency quoted three political sources as saying.
The fallout from the scandal surrounding Bo, whose wife has been named as a suspect in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November, has left China's leadership facing its biggest political crisis since the crushing of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement.
Bo's removal from office was sparked by the Feb. 6 flight of his former police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, and both men are now under investigation for "serious violations" of Party discipline at an unknown location.
Party officials have already begun investigating claims from lawyers that Bo's anti-mafia campaigns in the southwestern megacity targeted as many innocent billionaires, confiscating their money and torturing them for confessions, as it did real crime bosses.
Bo's political elimination has opened the field for posts on the Politburo Standing Committee, China's top leadership group, which is usually formed after careful calculations of political relationships and intra-Party loyalties.
"The central leadership wants to focus on ensuring a stable environment for the 18th Party Congress, so the guiding policy is to end all the rumors and contention," a senior official was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The congress, scheduled to be held late this year, will appoint a new generation of leaders.
Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao will then step down from their government posts at the National People's Congress in early 2013, when Vice President Xi Jinping is likely to succeed Hu as president.
The new standing committee members start in their new roles in the parliamentary session in the March, when China's cabinet, the State Council, also undergoes a reshuffle.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.