China Unveils Major Policy Changes

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

China Unveils Major Policy Changes


Byline: Simon Denyer and William Wan The Washington Post

BEIJING -- President Xi Jinping announced Friday the most sweeping package of economic, social and legal reforms in China in decades, including a relaxation of the country's "one-child" policy and the scrapping of its much-criticized system of labor camps,

The changes rolled back harsh social policies that dated back to Communist China's two most eminent leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, while cementing Xi's hold on the levers of power. It offered the promise of a country driven by market forces, with a stronger rule of law, but still firmly under the grip of the Communist Party.

"This is the most market-oriented and the most comprehensive package of reforms in two decades," said Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution in Washington. He emphasized the "concrete efforts to promote judicial independence" and abolish a labor camp system which has long been a symbol of arbitrary and politically motivated punishment.

The measures, announced after a meeting of top party officials, promised to address some of the roots of China's growing unrest by giving peasant farmers a greater share of the benefits of the nation's economic boom, with more rights to sell land and settle permanently in the cities. But there is to be no relaxation of the Communist Party's overarching control of China, and efforts to stamp out dissent and "manage" the Internet could even be intensified.

The new family-planning policy states that if either member of a couple is an only child, the couple may have two children. The change means that most young Chinese couples can now have second children, if they wish.

Human rights groups said the changes to the one-child policy were disappointingly limited, but they praised the decision to get rid of labor camps as a step in the right direction for Xi's eight-month-old government.

The pace and precise extent of planned economic reforms remains uncertain, but financial markets reacted enthusiastically as the detailed nature and overall direction of the plan leaked out early in the day.

"Xi has an ambitious agenda for reforming China's economic and governance structures, and the will and political craft to achieve many of his aims," said Arthur Kroeber, founding partner of GK Dragonomics in Beijing. "His program may not satisfy market fundamentalists, and he certainly offers no hope for those who would like to see China become more democratic. But it is likely to be effective in sustaining the nation's economic growth and enabling the Communist Party to keep a comfortable grip on power."

The relaxation of the one-child policy may not cause a significant rise in the country's population of 1.3 billion people, demographers say. Couples where both partners are only children -- common in Chinese cities -- have long been allowed to have a second child, but, because of because of the rising costs of housing and education costs, not all do. Rural families are also allowed to do have a second child if their first child is a girl.

"There could be a slight rise, but this policy will not cause a dramatic growth in the birth rate," Li Jianmin, a population professor at Nankai University, said. "A majority of only-child parents are living in the cities, where the cost of raising a child is very high, and many young

parents cannot afford to have a second child."

China enacted the controversial one-child policy in 1980 to rein in runaway population growth. Internal debate about relaxing the policy has intensified in the face of an aging population and a looming shortage of labor.

Human rights groups, which have repeatedly exposed forced abortions, infanticide and involuntary sterilizations being propagated under the policy, had wanted it abolished altogether.

"What they're doing is just tinkering with it," said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. …

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