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Mon, Mar 04, 2002 - Page 21 News List

Beijing about to be pressured on private property regulations

AP , BEIJING

A policeman directs traffic for delegates arriving in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress on Sunday. Some predict that the business sector will pressure the government to improve rules on private property ownership.

PHOTO: AFP

As China's legislative season begins, an association representing the country's increasingly powerful entrepreneurs wants the government to strengthen state protection of private property -- no small affair in a people's republic founded on a doctrine antithetical to private ownership.

The All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, a trade group, is proposing a constitutional amendment to enshrine such protections in Chinese law and will introduce it at next week's session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the official China Daily newspaper reported Saturday.

The Chinese constitution stipulates that state-owned property is "divine and imprescriptible." It bans destruction of state-owned properties "by any organizations or individuals by any means."

But, according to the entrepre-neurs' association, it does not offer the same level of protection to private property.

The federation wants to change the constitution to explicitly protect private property "in language as clear and as strong as that applied to state-owned properties," China Daily reported.

"Without such a stipulation, the future of some private enterprises remains unknown, and that's a disadvantage for social stability," the proposal states. The federation is one of 34 sectors represented in the consultative conference, an advisory body to the legislative National People's Congress, which also convenes next week.

According to official statistics, China now has more than 1.7 million privately run domestic enterprises with an investment of 1.1 trillion yuan (US$132.85 billion) and a labor force of 27 million people.

In the post Mao Tse-tung (毛澤東) era of the past quarter-century, ever since the late leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) launched economic reforms that pushed China toward the outside world, foreign investment and ambitious business ventures -- international and domestic -- have fueled great growth.

Yet the government continually walks a tightrope as it attempts to balance economically beneficial activities and privatization with the mandate of its founding principles -- particularly "gongchan zhuyi," the Chinese word for communism, which translates literally as "public property doctrine."

China's recent acceptance into the WTO only makes this more complicated, even as it opens more economic doors.

Just as delicate is the balance between private property and public interest in China, where government-backed development often takes precedence over individual property rights.

Even McDonald's, a symbol of the growth of foreign interests in China, was forced to close its first restaurant in Beijing in 1996 after the government evicted it so a Hong Kong tycoon could build a US$1.5 billion shopping and office complex. The government later agreed to pay McDonald's US$12.3 million.

Entrepreneurs were encouraged last year when President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), in a major policy speech, invited them into the Communist Party. The move was part of what Beijing calls "socialism with Chinese characteristics," its code for balancing party doctrine with profit-making policy that flirts with, and sometimes downright resembles, capitalism.

A 1999 amendment to the Chinese constitution, considered a milestone for entrepreneurs in China, upgraded private enterprise from a "complement to the state-owned economy" to "an important constituting part" of what is commonly referred to here as the "socialist market economy."

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