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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 11:17 GMT
China to protect private property
By Francis Markus
BBC, Shanghai

Members of China's National People's Congress have introduced a proposed amendment to the constitution, which will legally protect private property rights for the first time since 1949.

The official Xinhua news agency said lawmakers also proposed an amendment to enshrine in the constitution the theories of Jiang Zemin, the former president who invited capitalists to join the Communist Party.

Workers in China
China's rapid economic growth is throwing up contradictions
China's parliament has begun discussing the amendments, which go right to the heart of the sweeping economic reforms of recent years.

Perhaps the most significant change is an amendment guaranteeing private property rights.

A Communist Party plenum in October decided to proceed with that decision and China's compliant legislature cannot do much to thwart it. Yet there has been heated debate about the move, which marks a dramatic step for a country still trying to reconcile free market economics with an authoritarian Maoist/Leninist heritage.

Another contentious part of this ideological juggling game now being discussed is how to enshrine in the constitution former President Jiang Zemin's awkwardly-named doctrine called the "Three Represents".

This is an attempt to broaden the party's support base to include not just the working class but the newly emerging entrepreneurial elite.

The constitutional amendment process will take several months before the changes are presented to the full NPC session in March, and there are still likely to be voices urging caution as China's grapples with an ever-broadening wealth gap.

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