Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party dismissed Wen Jibao's offer of dialogue on Tuesday, with the secretary general, Lin Chia-lung, saying China had "no idea what democracy is" and that there would be no peace across the Taiwan strait "if China does not embrace democracy."

Wen's offer came after the close of the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's equivalent of parliament, which sat for 10 days in Beijing.

The prime minister briefed reporters on China's forthcoming plans in a number of main policy areas including the economy, the environment and the internet.

Wen said China was watching Taiwan closely and preparing for any possible consequences of President Chen Shui-bian's "massively risky, foolhardy and deceptive" decision last month to scrap a national unification council.

'Unswerving' ambition

Authorities continue to monitor
what ordianary Chinese read

Chen's actions were "brazenly challenging the one-China principle," he said.

However, he said, "as long as the party is willing to give up its platform of so-called 'Taiwan independence', we are willing and ready to make positive responses to their move, and we are willing to have contacts and consultations with them."


Lin said the DPP planned to mobilise 100,000 people to protest against China's anti-secession law, passed in March last year, which legalises the use of force against the self-ruled island.

Beijing has stopped short of repeating long-standing threats to attack Taiwan if it formally declares statehood.

Wen also said on Tuesday that China intended to "unswervingly" press ahead with its long-term reform agenda despite the multiple economic, social and environmental problems its fast growth has engendered.

"We need to continue to adhere to the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Although there will be difficulties in the way ahead, we cannot stop. Back-pedalling is not a way out."


Growing pains

Chinese farmers are suffering due
to illegal seizures of their land

There is rising concern among the general population and within the ruling Communist Party over some of the unwelcome and divisive consequences of 20 years of rapid economic growth.

China now has one of the world's biggest wealth gaps, social unrest is on the rise, the environment is increasingly degraded, and rampant corruption is a big concern.

Wen admitted that in recent years his government had not adequately addressed issues that affected ordinary Chinese people's livelihoods.

He said that masses of Chinese farmers were suffering injustices because of the illegal seizures of their land.

"We need to respect the democratic rights of the farmers, especially their right to independently operate their contracted land," Wen said.


In an unusually frank admission, the prime minister said that the government had "failed to deliver on the targets  concerning environmental protection."


He said China could not continue to allow the development of infrastructure projects that wasted resources and polluted the environment, and that existing laws had to be more strictly enforced.


Media clampdown
  

After repeated warnings, Beijing has increasingly become aware over the last two years that the nation's economic growth model is environmentally unsustainable.

"We need to continue to adhere to the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Although there will be difficulties in the way ahead, we cannot stop"

Wen Jibao, Chinese premier

In other areas on Tuesday, Wen urged internet sites and other media outlets to exercise restraint, saying the national interest comes before freedom of speech.

Wen said internet companies and website operators in particular should adopt a "code of conduct."

Critics say that Chinese authorities are shying away from liberalising the media in order to help alleviate China's social problems, choosing instead to increase controls on the internet and clampdown on "outspoken" media outlets.

According to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, China jailed more journalists than any other country in 2005, the seventh year in succession it has won the dubious distinction.

Of the 32 journalists imprisoned last year, 15 were internet writers.