The rule of law should be highlighted in advancing China's ongoing reform of its petition system, an important channel for the public to vent their grievances but one many regard as riddled with factors endangering social stability.
Apart from channelling public discontent, petition letters and visits by wronged or maltreated citizens are also unique ways for Chinese officials to learn about people's real lives and seek ways to remedy misdoings and ensure justice.
China unveiled a plan in a key policy document of the Communist Party of China published in November to reform its petition system to answer public's complaints in a more timely manner.
In response, the country has ushered in a set of rules in recent months, vowing rule of law in handling petition cases, cracking down on illegal confinement of petitioners, expanding petition channels online, and diverting lawsuit-related petition cases to courts to better redress public grievances.
The government also vowed to improve assessment of local governments regarding the handling of petitions, by placing more stock in the effectiveness of settlements rather than the number of petitions handled.
To guide citizens to make complaints in an effective, stepwise and legal way, the government made public a regulation on Wednesday, forbidding petitioners from filing their complaints directly to higher levels of government without first going through local authorities.
Despite the efforts, however, there are still hard nuts to crack in the ongoing reform.
The biggest one is the perception that filing petitions works better than seeking legal justice and that accessing superior officials has more tangible effects than lower-ranking ones, beliefs fueled by public mistrust of government and judiciary.
Guaranteeing people's well-being and governance by law are the groundwork to prevent and defuse disputes.
Instead of intercepting petitioners to prevent them from raising grievances with their superiors, local officials should intercept the problems by attending to people's needs and performing their duties within the legal framework so as to settle issues at an early stage and the grass-root level.
Those found to have showed indifference or hampered people's interests in petition handling, refusing or delaying petitions, should be seriously punished.
Solving public complaints within the legal framework and transferring more cases from the government agency handling petitions to courts is a path that the country must take.
Rule of law is essential if the reform is to restore the true nature of the petition system, which is designed to help authorities to hear people's voices, ensure social justice and cement ties with them.