It is curious to see Premier Wen Jiabao return to the topic of political reform while on a 48-hour trip to New York recently.
Last month he spoke about it in a speech in Shenzhen a few days before President Hu Jintao went there for the official ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the special economic zone (SEZ).
In his talk with overseas Chinese media a few days ago, Wen again reiterated what he had said earlier. "I've previously said economic reform without the protection of political reform will not achieve complete success, and might even lose what's been gained," he said.
"What is the main purpose of political reform? I believe it is to safeguard the freedoms and rights as provided under the constitution and the law... to have a relaxed political environment, so people can better express their independent spirit and creativity, and to allow them to enjoy free and all-round development -- I believe these should make up what we mean by democracy and freedom."
Then he went on to explain what rule of law means within a one-party state.
"Of course, we are trying to build a China with democracy and rule of law. The most important element of rule of law is when a political party rules, it should act according to the constitution and the law, and the party's will and ideas must also be exercised only after they've been converted into law through legal procedures.
"When all organizations must act within the framework of the constitution and the law -- that's rule of law.
"I believe, in order to achieve this, we still need a certain amount of time. But this is necessitated by modern civilization and modern politics; we must work in this direction."
What Wen means by "a certain amount of time" is anyone's guess. However, his statements have fueled speculation that there is a rift between him and Hu in terms of where China needs to go next domestically. Analysts have also been wondering why Wen is making such bold statements with two years left as premier.
Nevertheless, Wen might have specifically made these statements directed at an external audience to let foreigners know there are other voices in the country. Some observe that while the government has made no efforts in reforming the system as Wen has suggested, it might be away to appease its foreign audience into thinking there might be progress around the corner.
But as old China hands know, and there are many cynical ones out there, actions speak louder than words.
If political reform is underway, then why not release Liu Xiaobo, Hu Jia, Gao Zhisheng and many others who are locked up because of their fights for justice and progress in China's political system?
Speaking of which, last week former Czech President Vaclav Havel again called on the Nobel Prize Committee to give this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Liu.
"We ask the Nobel Committee to honour Liu Xiaobo's more than two decades of unflinching and peaceful advocacy for reform, and to make him the first Chinese recipient of that prestigious award. In doing so, the Nobel Committee would signal both to Liu and to the Chinese government that many inside China and around the world stand in solidarity with him, and his unwavering vision of freedom and human rights for the 1.3 billion people of China," Havel wrote in the letter.
We shall see what happens... in Sweden and in China.