BEIJING — China's parliament chief Thursday ruled out any shift to multi-party democracy in a speech that appeared to pour cold water on political reform hopes sparked by remarks from Premier Wen Jiabao last year.
Wu Bangguo, who is officially number two in the country's leadership behind President Hu Jintao, said in his annual address to the legislature that abandoning the Communist Party-dominated system could lead to chaos.
"If we waver... the fruits of development that we have already achieved will be lost and the country could even fall into the abyss of civil strife," Wu told the National People's Congress, which he heads.
The Communist Party uses Wu's address each year to ram home the idea that only its authoritarian rule is suitable for China, but Thursday's speech follows comments by Wen last August seen by many as backing political reform.
During a speech in the southern city of Shenzhen, Wen said China must "push forward reform of the political system", increase citizen's democratic rights and place checks on state power.
Those comments, and his remarks in a subsequent interview on CNN, fuelled speculation of a split in the party's top leadership, and especially with Hu, whose own later comments on the issue were much more tepid.
Political analysts are closely watching such comments as the Communist Party prepares for a crucial meeting late next year, during which the country's top leadership for the next decade will be finalised.
Wu, however, made no mention of political reform in his speech to nearly 3,000 parliamentary delegates, whose annual session runs through March 14.
"China's national conditions strongly indicate that we not engage in multi-party rotations of political power, not engage in a diversity of guiding political ideologies," or adopt other concepts such as separation of powers or bicameral legislatures, Wu said.
He added China cannot "mechanically copy" foreign legislative features and said laws going through the parliament must aim to "strengthen and improve the party's leadership, and cement and perfect the party's ruling status".
Communist leaders regularly say Chinese people already enjoy many democratic rights and that the country is on a long-term path to perfecting that.
However, political power is monopolised by the Communist Party and the government says China has unique features that prevent any speedy change in the situation.
Many political observers have said Wen's comments actually did not depart significantly, if at all, from the official lip service paid to democracy and political reform.