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Saturday, September 20, 2003

Small Movements in Big China

Looked at from a western perspective, this must seem like pretty small beer, and a long way short of democracy as we know it. But China is moving, however tentatively, in the right direction, This may well be an indication of much bigger things yet to come.

China has set up a secret top-level body to draft sweeping changes to its constitution, foreshadowing landmark economic and political reforms that could change the ideological complexion of the communist state. The move highlights the increasing authority of Hu Jintao, president, who only took office three months ago but is now beginning to set the political agenda - according to one official - like a silkworm eating through a leaf.

The new body's most concrete task is to draft a constitutional amendment that would give the property of private enterprises the same level of legal protection as state-owned enterprises, official sources said. This would be one of the most significant constitutional changes since the 1949 revolution that brought the Communist party to power.In its current form, clause 12 in the constitution provides explicit protection for "socialist public property" but omits any mention of the property of private enterprises, the most dynamic part of the domestic economy.The amendment, which may be adopted by the National People's Congress as early as next March, could provide a considerable boost to the fortunes of private enterprises, which find it difficult to secure bank credit and can suffer from official discrimination. The establishment of the new body highlights how Mr Hu is beginning to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor Jiang Zemin, whose allies still dominate the ruling politburo.
Source: Financial Times

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