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China's reform pledges: the main points

17 november 2013, 17:24
0
The Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese Communist Party plenum is being held, is seen behinds red flags in Tiananmen square in Beijing. ©Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
The Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese Communist Party plenum is being held, is seen behinds red flags in Tiananmen square in Beijing. ©Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
China's Communist Party leaders this week emerged from a closed-door meeting in Beijing bearing a raft of promises on issues from the controversial one-child policy to the scope of the death penalty, AFP reports.

The gathering, known as the Third Plenum, has historically been the venue for major reform announcements, and comes one year after new leaders under General Secretary Xi Jinping took charge of the ruling party.

Analysts have been split on the question of whether China's new president will usher in an era of reform or seek to maintain the status quo.

Some of the proposed policy changes released in texts by the official Xinhua news agency and the government-run China Daily appear significant, although experts warn that their importance will depend on how they are implemented.

Below is a look at some of the major pledges:

-- Easing the one-child policy. China's family planning law currently restricts most parents to one child, with exceptions including some rural families whose first child is a girl, ethnic minorities, and couples who are both only children.

Going forward, couples where only one parent is an only child will be allowed to have two offspring.

-- Abolishing the re-education through labour system. Under the scheme, known as "laojiao" and introduced in 1957, police panels can sentence offenders to up to four years in camps without a trial.

It is largely used for petty offenders, but is also blamed for rights abuses by officials seeking to punish "petitioners" who try to complain about them to higher authorities. Activists stress that the question of how it is replaced remains.

-- Reforms to petitioning. Chinese citizens have long had the right to bring their complaints against officials to higher authorities, a system known as petitioning, but have often ended up in unofficial "black jails" for doing so.

"The petition system will be reformed and a system established to take public petitions online," the China Daily text said, without giving further details.

-- Reducing the scope of the death penalty. Beijing will "step by step" reduce the number of crimes eligible for capital punishment, Xinhua said, adding the last such move was in 2011, when the number was cut from 68 to 55.

China has long been the world's biggest judicial killer of its own citizens, but the trend has been sharply downwards for years. The US-based Dui Hua Foundation estimates there were 3,000 executions last year, a 75 percent drop from 12,000 in 2002, although since Beijing regards the figure as a state secret it does not reveal it.

-- Changes to household registration. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have migrated from the poor countryside to the cities in recent decades, but are barred from equal access to benefits such as healthcare and education when they do under the "hukou" household registration system.

Reform of the system will be "accelerated to help farmers become urban residents", with the greatest relaxation of the rules in towns and small cities, while China will "strictly control the size of population in megacities".

-- Greater land rights for farmers. Under Chinese law, rural land is collectively owned, with farmers only allowed rights to use it, without being able to sell or mortgage it.

"Farmers will be given more property rights," the document said, and will be allowed to "sell a share or take it as collateral or warranty" in a shareholding system, while a "rural property-rights trading market will be established".

-- Loosening controls on the economy. The market will have a "decisive" role in the allocation of resources, the document said, a change from previous rhetoric where it was said to play a "basic" part.

State-owned firms -- which still have a huge share of the economy -- will have to pay larger dividends to the government, and private companies will be allowed a bigger role.

-- Establishing a state security committee. Authorities plan to create a new panel that, as China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang explained Wednesday, "will make forces like terrorism, separatism and extremism nervous".

News of the decision to create the committee comes two weeks after a fiery attack in Tiananmen Square, which Beijing has said was an act of "terror" carried out by Uighurs from China's restive far-west region of Xinjiang. Disgruntled citizens have staged several incidents elsewhere in the country in recent years, and protests in China are estimated to top 180,000 a year.

-- Reform the military. The People's Liberation Army is a vast organisation and the world's largest military. The party will "deepen the reform of the military's composition and functions", the document said, but gave few specific details.

China will "push forward reform of training and logistics for joint combat operations", it added.

-- Improving the judiciary. Chinese courts are politically controlled and have a near-perfect conviction rate, with allegations of abuse frequent. The country will "ensure independence and fairness in courts and prosecuting bodies", the text said, without detailing how.

China will "boost the judicial system to protect human rights" it added, and "improve mechanisms to avoid false accusations and confessions obtained through torture".

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