[photopress:s_Congress_delegates.jpg,full,alignright]China’s parliament has agreed landmark changes to the constitution that will protect private property for the first time since the 1949 revolution. This endorsement came on the final day of the National People’s Congress annual meeting in Beijing. In most international reports the suggestion is that with this vote, China is abandoning one of the key pillars of communism. Some of the delegates are seen in our illustration.
The vote to amend the 1982 constitution was passed with 2,863 in favour to 10 against, with 17 abstentions.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said: ‘These changes to the constitution are of great significance to the development of China.’ But he also warned that China’s economy is at a critical juncture, and that the country’s system of governance has to keep in step with the transformation to a capitalistic economy. He said, ‘Without success in political restructuring, economic reforms in China cannot eventually succeed.’
The wording: ‘A citizen’s lawful private property is inviolable’ reflects a further endorsement by the Communist Party of its policy of capitalist economics with socialist characteristics.
The amendment should help stop state officials from requisitioning property and private possessions.
The main focus of this year’s National People’s Congress has been to switch priority to the countryside and farmers.
The slogan ‘Put people first’ was adopted by many delegates, with the recognition that national stability could be at risk if the living standards of the rural poor did not improve. The recognition of property rights is an ideological landmark.
China’s National People’s Congress is not a parliament in the western sense. It meets once a year. It used to be full of scripted speechmaking rubber-stamping government decisions. Now there is a change and criticisms and debate are allowed. News reporting of the event has become almost lively.
The firmest evidence that the Congress is not quite the rubber stamp it used to be is that the law recognising private property rights passed this week has encountered such heated opposition that it has taken China’s all-powerful leaders thirteen years of nudging, and five years of drafting and redrafting, to get it on to the statute books.
The property law is a necessary attempt to clarify who owns what. It is far from perfect. It still maintains the fiction that rural land is ‘collectively’ owned. Farmers will be able to renew their land-use leases, but they will neither be allowed to mortgage land, or to acquire the individual title that would give them proper protection against forcible acquisition.
However, the Chinese government promised to spend RMB391.7 billion ($50.25 billion) on agriculture, rural areas and farmers this year, as it vows to develop modern agriculture and build a new countryside.
To ensure all citizens share the fruits of China’s reform the government will expand the subsistence allowance system to all rural poor, with an aim to bring some 23.7 million poverty-stricken people under the social security net this year.
Source: The Times Online