China moves to put private property under constitutional protection 03-08-2004 18:53

Chinese legislators began Monday to consider whether to specify the inviolability of private property in the nation's Constitution, and the draft constitutional amendment, if approved, would become what is widely described as "a historic progress."

Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), briefed lawmakers on the draft constitutional amendment at the on-going NPC annual session in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Monday afternoon.

The draft amendment suggests "legal private property is not to be encroached upon" and adds "the state should give compensation" to the current stipulation that "the state has the right to expropriate urban and rural land."

"It is a substantive breakthrough in the history of the People's Republic of China and that reminds me of the past old days when we were proud of being penniless and devoting all possessions to the country," said Xia Bing, a lawyer who serves a Shanghai-based private law house.

In the first 30 years after New China was founded in 1949, the predominant agricultural country had been engaged in a continuous campaign to turn its war-shattered economy into what the top leaders hoped to be superior to the world powers. But the drive was frequently pestered by uncertainties such as natural disasters and political movements such as the devastating "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976).

"Being poor meant being revolutionary and clean in heart, and it was a shame to rake profits and dream of a luxurious life at that time," recalls 60-year-old Zhang Yuying, a factory retiree in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

Tremendous improvements in the people's daily life did not take place until the Chinese economy began to take off fueled by the reform and open-up policy adopted in the late 1970s. In 2003, China's per-capita GDP reached 1,000 US dollars, which is internationally accepted as a mark of a medium-developed country. Major cities such as Shanghai even reported a much bigger figure of more than 5,000 US dollars.

With swelling wallets, an increasing number of Chinese citizens have purchased or are planning to buy cars and other expensive consumer goods.

Concurrent with the economic boom is a change in the people's thinking, from the concept that "It's shame to be rich" to a brand-new motto that "It's a pride to get rich through hard work in a lawful way."

To usher in a nationwide endeavor to "build a well-off society in an all-round way," the Chinese government has taken a more scientific and realistic approach to handling ideological issues, boosting economic development and constructing a full-fledged legal framework.

"Stipulations that hamper China's reform and development should be changed but amendments are focused on the most essential ones to maintain the stability of the Constitution," said senior lawmaker Yang Jingyu.

The draft constitutional amendment submitted by NPC Standing Committee Monday has drawn wide attention since the proposal was put forward by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) last year.

It will be the first time in the history of New China that lawfully-obtained capital goods and invisible capital such as intellectual property rights are put under constitutional protection, as is the same case with living materials and properties such as estate and bank deposits.

The draft amendment, already a cynosure itself, has brought under the spotlight the country's newly-rich private entrepreneurs, who have accumulated wealth and dotted the nation's skyline with robust economic growth.

By the end of November 2003, the number of China's private enterprises hit 2.97 million with registered capital exceeding 334.7 billion yuan (40.5 billion US dollars). The non-public sectors now contribute to half of China's national economic growth.

"The practice of encouraging the private sector of the economy but avoiding reference to its existence in the law no longer sits well with the rising private sector," said Lian Xisheng, a renowned law scholar with China University of Politics and Law.

The draft amendment suggests "encouraging, supporting and guiding the private economy." Sixteen years ago, the amendments to the current constitution 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 1999, the role of the private sector was upgraded to make it an "essential part" of the socialist market economy.

The CPC Central Committee has been pushing forward China's economic restructuring in a steady and irreversible manner, and property right is one of the essential issues of the reform, economists say.

The draft amendment also incorporates into the Constitution the important thought of "Three Represents," which emphasizes that the CPC must represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people.

"Constitutional protection on legally accumulated wealth will spur investment and consumption, and further promote development of the national economy," said NPC deputy Wu Zixiang, an entrepreneur from the southern coastal province of Guangdong.

NPC deputy entrepreneur Zhu Qinglong, from Anhui Province, described the draft amendment as a "comforting pill" and pledged to increase investment in his high-tech business of auto-control system manufacturing.

In recent years, forcible relocation of urban and rural residents for real estate and other projects has resulted in growing disputes between residents and developers.

Wang Zhenmin, a law professor at the prestigious Qinghua University, said the draft amendment, which puts private property on the same footing with public assets, will better safeguard lawful private property rights of Chinese citizens from public infringement.

Amendments to the Chinese Constitution are to be proposed by the NPC Standing Committee or by more than one-fifth of all NPC deputies and adopted by a majority affirmative vote of more than two-thirds of all the deputies.

Chinese lawmakers will discuss the amendment draft in the coming days and voted on its fate on March 14, a day to be recorded in the Chinese history no matter the draft is approved or not.

Editor:Xiao  Source:Xinhua News Agency

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