At the close of China's annual National People's Congress this week Prime Minister Wen Jiabao held a frank and wide-ranging press conference.
Billed as his "swansong" - the PM will retire this year - it covered everything from how to engage with Taiwan to why the housing market needed tougher state regulation.
But predictably enough, Western news agencies focused on one key element - Wen's apparent emphasis on the "urgency" of political reform in China.
Some commentators seized excitedly on this, concluding that the "people's premier" - Wen earned the name through his penchant for racing to disaster zones, spending Chinese New Year down a coal mine with the workers and wearing the same raincoat for the last two decades - was using the freedom associated with retirement to denounce the Communist Party he has served in for 47 years and embrace westernisation.
Others took a more cynical approach, lamenting that Wen was only calling for reform now, having done nothing in his 10 years as head of government.
But in fact the PM's comments were hardly unprecedented. Western misinterpretation of Chinese political speeches is commonplace - phrases are taken out of context or simply misunderstood.
It is true that Wen called for spreading democracy, for example. But while a liberal may see this as a bid to abandon communist ideology it is anything but. Wen himself has said as much before, sharply reminding reporters back in 2007 that "democracy is not unique to capitalism." Wen talked on Wednesday of the "progressive establishment of socialist democratic politics." More specifically, he answered questions on direct elections in China.
"Practice has proved that in rural villages directly elected village committees are successful. I think if you can manage a village, you can manage a town and if you can manage a town you can manage a county. The democratic system will develop in accordance with China's circumstances, and it is unstoppable."
The truth is that directly elected local authorities have been spreading in China since the 1990s, though such practices have generally been ignored in the West - the recent election of Lin Zuluan after leading Wukan's villagers in a land dispute was a rare exception.
That the Communist Party wants to expand the practice to higher and higher levels is nothing new - it is in fact a long-standing policy.
The process has been gradual but that doesn't mean the party is not acting in good faith. Wen's remark that the "historical tragedy of the Cultural Revolution may occur again" underlines a widespread fear of chaos - and Chinese party members need no reminder of how hasty and ill-conceived structural reforms in the Soviet Union ended in collapse and capitalist restoration.
Wen pointed out that political and economic reform go hand in hand, but also that the government was now having to deal with negative consequences of some reforms already made as inequality, corruption and unfair distribution pose a potentially lethal threat to socialist society.
It was these issues that he urged "party members and leading cadres" to deal with "urgently." There was no question of weakening economic planning - on housing he warned that "regulation cannot relax" and that while the market had a role in resource allocation it was the government's responibility to ensure the results were "stable and fair."
Wen's response to a question on his record in government was emotional and he apologised for "so much work we have not done, things we have not managed well and things we regret," before vowing to serve his final year in office "like an old horse yoked to the harness." But it would be ludicrous to claim, as one German newspaper did, that the administration led by Wen and President Hu Jintao has "wasted 10 years."
This is a decade in which China has emerged as the second largest economy in the world, in which average wages have been rising by over 10 per cent a year, in which a swathe of progressive legislation has begun to tackle the more difficult legacies of 1980s marketisation - the wealth gap between the coast and the interior, the lack of social security and employment rights for tens of millions of migrant workers and the pollution problems caused by industrialisation at breakneck speed. None of these problems has been resolved, but in each case huge progress has been made.
Ultimately this is a party and a government which is well aware of the shortcomings of "top-down" bureaucratic socialism but also acutely conscious of the colossal human cost of getting the solution wrong, as evidenced by the dramatic fall in life expectancy and living standards in Russia during the 1990s.
Major reforms tend to be tried out at a local level and then rolled out if they work - that's what happened with the special economic zones of the 1980s and is happening with the gradual shift from a one-child policy to a two-child policy at the moment. "Practice has proved," Wen began - or, to use Deng Xiaoping's phrase,"We are crossing the river by feeling for the stones."
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.