Approves Amendments to Constitution on Human Rights
The New York Times
March 15, 2004
BEIJING, March 14
- China's Parliament formally approved constitutional amendments
on Sunday that address private property and human rights. At the
same time, the country's new prime minister promised to rein in
the overheated economy.
The steps came on
the closing day of the annual meeting of the National People's
Congress, during which Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other top
officials continued their efforts to recast the government as
a protector of the poor and powerless.
Chinese legal experts
and even lawmakers said the changes, which were decided in closed-door
sessions of the governing Communist Party last fall and formally
approved Sunday, would not remove government restrictions on protest.
China's Constitution is subordinate to the party and is amended
often to reflect changes in official ideology.
In a news conference
at the end of the legislative session, Mr. Wen indicated that
the government would maintain a piecemeal approach to political
changes while focusing on the economy and the rickety banking
"I think this
test won't be any less easy than SARS," said Mr. Wen, referring
to the epidemic that spread across China last year. "If we
adjust well, we may be able to keep the ship of the Chinese economy
steady at a relatively fast clip. If we don't, it will be difficult
to avoid setbacks."
The 2,900-member legislature approved 13 changes to the Constitution.
"The state respects and preserves human rights," says
one. "Citizens' lawful private property is inviolable,"
states another, as well as saying the state will protect private
property and give compensation when property is confiscated.
The legislature also
authorized introducing major slogans associated with the country's
semiretired leader, Jiang Zemin, into the Constitution, thus placing
him on an official ideological dais beside Mao Zedong and Deng
changes were unlikely to have any direct influence on the outcomes
of court cases, said Chinese legal experts, because the courts
here usually do not test laws and government decisions for fidelity
to the Constitution.
"The new constitutional
provisions are very vague, and won't mean much unless laws are
revised to conform with them," said He Weifang, a professor
at the Beijing University law school. "They're more important
symbolically rather than legally."
The private property
amendment was a recognition of private business's growing economic
and political might, rather than an effective legal guarantee,
said Mr. He and other legal experts.
The view was echoed
even by lawmakers. "The Constitution isn't a law," said
Zhao Linzhong, a businessman and national legislator from Zhejiang.
"The changes will settle people's minds."
At a news conference
marking his first year as China's top government official, Mr.
Wen said he would try to make officials more law abiding and honest
by encouraging public scrutiny and collective decision-making.
But he also said the Constitution must be left under party jurisdiction.
Asked about the government's
stance on Taiwan's coming presidential election and referendum
on relations with the mainland, Mr. Wen kept to the muted approach
taken by mainland officials in recent weeks.
On March 20, Taiwanese
will choose between the incumbent president, Chen Shui-bian, who
China fears will lead the island toward independence, and the
Nationalist Party candidate, Lian Chan, who favors a more conciliatory
approach to the mainland. Chinese officials have generally avoided
threats that may drive more votes to Mr. Chen.
Mr. Wen said his
government was adamantly opposed to any form of Taiwanese independence,
but he avoided mention of military action.
Mr. Wen also dismissed
a recent call by a prominent Chinese surgeon, Jiang Yanyong, to
reverse the official condemnation of the Tiananmen Square political
protests of 1989. At the outset of the parliamentary session,
Dr. Jiang circulated a letter calling on top government and party
leaders to review the student-led protests and condemn the use
of force to squelch them.
"Unity and stability
are really more important than anything else, and that's what
I'm most concerned with as prime minister," Mr. Wen said.