Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Sunday, December 28, 2003

China's Constitution amendments to have far-reaching influence

Constitutional revisions are meant to regularize the valuable experience of China's reform and opening-up, and to bring it in line with the common ideology of the nation, said Pang Xianzhi, a constitutional expert of the Communist Party of China (CPC).


Constitutional revisions are meant to regularize the valuable experience of China's reform and opening-up, and to bring it in line with the common ideology of the nation, said Pang Xianzhi, a constitutional expert of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

"A constitution is not about foretelling the future," the ideological guru said about the third round of amendments to China's Constitution five years ago.

The past five years witnessed rapid socio-economic progress and helped mull over the fourth round of constitutional amendments which topped the agenda of Chinese lawmakers. They had gathered in the past week at the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee to discuss the revisions proposed by the CPC Central Committee.

Though claiming to stick to the principle of "maintaining the stability of the Constitution and limiting the amendments to the most essential ones," the CPC Central Committee still proposed 14 major revisions to the Constitution, many more than in previous years.

The current Constitution, which contains 138 articles in four chapters, was formulated in 1982, and was later amended three times, with two revisions in 1998, nine in 1993, and six in 1999.

"The CPC central committee's proposal is a comprehensive one," said a top legislator. It covers a wide range of issues of public concern that were not tackled before, and the large scale of the revisions is also related to the "democratic manner" in which the proposals were formulated. "It reflects the work style of China's new generation of leaders," he said.

When the CPC Central Committee said it wanted to revise the Constitution this time, it just put forward some basic principles without a detailed draft, and solicited suggestions from local Party committees and people from all walks of life. After a draft had been made, it was again passed to localities and people of various sectors again, for their opinions.

"The proposal to the top legislature is the brainchild of the whole Party and the whole Chinese people," a senior lawmaker said, noting that "the way to form the proposals was a concrete example of showing the practice of democracy and reflecting the strong leadership of the Party."

The writing of the "Three Represents," a long-term guiding principle for the Party, into the Constitution has drawn the most attention in the proposals.

The important thought of the "Three Represents," put forward by former general secretary of the CPC Central Committee Jiang Zemin, states that the CPC must always represent "the development trend of China's advanced productive forces, the orientation of China's advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people."

The "Three Represents," already written into the Party's charter, should also become a guiding principle for the country's political and social life, lawmakers said when reviewing the proposal.

More importantly, other proposed revisions to the Constitution, like the protection of lawful private property, are also in line with the spirit of the "Three Represents," they said.

The suggestions calling for the protection of lawful private property and the promotion of non-public economy are greatly hailed by private entrepreneurs, who have accumulated wealth in the past two decades. And non-public economy now contributes to half of China's national economic growth.

"I'm encouraged and excited," said Li Linkai, a deputy to the NPC and general manager of Rongtai Industrial Co. Ltd., a private company based in South China's Guangdong Province.

"Such stipulations will eliminate entrepreneurs' hidden worries about their assets, and boost our confidence in long-term investment," he said. According to the proposed revisions, private assets to come under protection as defined in the draft amendments cover both living materials and capital goods.

The proposed amendments have been welcomed not only by the wealthy elite, but also those feeling that they have suffered injustices.

"The interests of residential house owners will be safeguarded too," said Shanghai-based real estate lawyer Liu Weiping, who specialized in the illegal demolition of residential houses by local governments and real estate developers.

"With the constitutional guarantee of private property, they (local governments and real estate developers) will feel less confident about the recklessly leveling private residences," he said.

Writing private property protection into the Constitution will exert a great influence on changing government work style, and safeguard the rights of citizens, legal experts say.

The 1988 constitutional amendments stipulated that the state permits the private economy to exist and grow within the limits prescribed by law as a "complement" to the public economy. In 1993,the term "socialistic market economy" was added. In 1999, the role of the private sector was upgraded to make it an "essential part" of the socialist market economy, while the 2003 proposal suggested" encouraging, supporting and guiding" the private economy and that "legal private property is not to be encroached."

Economists say such a "privatization" road map reveals that the Chinese economic system reform, with property right reform at the core, has been pushed forward in a steady manner and is never going to be reversed.

Zhu Xiangyuan, who has been active in Beijing's political circles, said that adding "respect for and protection of human rights" and "political civilization" to the Constitution shows the determination of the new Chinese leadership to deepen the political reform.

The promotion of democracy and human rights is the people's government's natural responsibility, and constitutional reform in this regard demonstrates that China's new leadership is paying enhanced attention to the people's interests, and is facing up to these issues, he said.

The proposals also replace the "state of siege" with a "state of emergency," which is part of the move to formulate regulations of preparedness and response to emergent public health hazards, natural disasters and other security issues. Such revisions are inline with international practices, but also a clear response to the outbreak of SARS earlier this year.

Other reforms proposed by the CPC Central Committee, including the improvement of the land requisition system and changing the terms of local deputies, currently from three to five years, to five years as a standard.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has tabled a bill based on the CPC proposals, and decided to bring it to the second annual session of the Tenth National People's Congress to be attended by around 3,000 deputies in March next year.

A new Constitution integrating the will of the Party and the people will serve as a strong foundation for China's future development, experts say.

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