Complaints pour in as Chinese leadership launch new website

Queries from citizens ranged from asking President Hu Jintao to kill corrupt officials and local tyrants, bring in political reforms to complaints of sky-high prices of apartments.
Launched quietly last week without fanfare, the site has been named 'Direct Line to Zhongnanhai', after the sprawling compound which houses the top Communist party leadership in Central Beijing.

Web surfers in China, which has the world's largest number of Internet users, also complained of no free speech, official graft, slow pace of delivery of justice, but also had praise for President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao.

"President Hu, I am a college student and I want to know the timetable and general direction of future political reform," said one Internet user on Hu's web page yesterday.
Another Internet user suggested that top government officials should purchase commercial apartments to experience the pressure felt by ordinary people.
The message board is seen as a new move by official media to bring the government and party closer to the public.

More than 16,000 messages were left for President Hu within four days of its opening, and Premier Wen's page also received some 11,000 comments as of 6 p.m., a report by China.org.cn said.

"The message board has created a platform to develop the public's civic awareness by en-couraging discussions of state affairs," said Lin Zhe, a professor of anti-corruption research at the Party School of the CPC.

"It is putting into practice Wen's words from this year's Government Work Report, which said that the country should pave the way for the public to criticise and monitor the government," Lin said, adding the new channel would help ease social tensions.

The state-run Xinhua news agency's website opened a forum during a session of the National People's Congress in March, allowing Internet users to raise questions for Wen, which received positive responses.

However, some scholars suspect this new message board is just a superficial gesture rather than an effective channel for reporting problems.

"I wonder how the website will report these messages to top leaders and how many problems can eventually be resolved," Yu Guoming, a scholar of media studies at the Renmin University of China said.

"Many local government officials have opened personal blogs to build up a connection with the public, but most of them ended up being badly maintained, as they did not take them seriously," Yu said.

Some mayors in Southwest China's Sichuan Province were accused of running their mailboxes inefficiently - replies to Internet users' comments either came very late or were full of empty platitudes, the Beijing News reported Sunday.

The editors of the message board could not be reached for comment yesterday, and an outline of the board did not give any details on how it would report the thousands of messages to top leaders, the website reported.

Lin argued that as long as problems are reported to the central government, there is a greater possibility that these problems will be resolved, suggesting that government officials at all levels should develop a routine mechanism to build up direct contacts with the public and invite citizens to discuss the feasibility of public policies before they are put into force.

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