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China’s Constitution Receives New Attention

China's President Xi Jinping (R) walks with retired leaders Jiang Zemin (C) and Hu Jintao (L) as they arrive at the National Day Reception. REUTERS/China Daily

China's President Xi Jinping (R) walks with retired leaders Jiang Zemin (C) and Hu Jintao (L) as they arrive at the National Day Reception. REUTERS/China Daily

The People’s Republic of China established its current constitution more than 30 years ago. Now, the constitution is getting newfound attention under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping. At a recent meeting, top-level officials spoke about building up the rule of law in China. The Communist Party has announced plans for a national day each year to celebrate the constitution. And Chinese officials will promise to defend its rules when they take office.

The constitution was established in 1982. It became the law of the land when the Communist Party was opening up China economically. At the time, the country was still recovering from its deadly and socially divisive Cultural Revolution.

Now China is at a crossroads. Its years of strong economic growth have passed. The country is struggling with the huge changes that took place in recent years. Two results of those changes are rising levels of corruption and damage to the environment.

China is seeking a new economic growth model. David Kelly is with the China Policy research group.

“We’re in a state of what we call, what we around here call ‘trapeze economics.’ That is, the system has to let go of one growth model in the faith that the next growth model is going to be right where it’s meant to be.”

Mr. Kelly says building up the rule of law is important because investors need to have legal guarantees when doing business in China.

“All of the mechanisms of a market economy are really needed more than ever. They were needed in ‘82, and that’s why there were changes in ‘82. But they’re needed more than ever now.”

China is not a market-driven economy. It is instead an economy in which state-operated businesses enjoy the government’s help.

Government connections are important, and many Chinese want to work for state-owned businesses. David Kelly says this is something the government does not want.

“They want to have global companies that are like Google or Apple. That doesn’t happen without assurances that you can make it outside the state sector.”

The Communist Party is also looking to change public opinion by placing attention on the rights of citizens. In a document released this week, the party talked about the need to strengthen citizens’ guarantees to property rights, fair rules and political rights.

President Xi Jinping wants to see a number of changes in China by 2020. He aims to have a country in which the rule of law is in place, and where trust in the legal system is continually growing. He says basic human rights will be respected and guaranteed.

William Nee is a China expert with Amnesty International in Hong Kong. He says there is a hunger among the legal community and Chinese citizens for a rule of law that is clear and based on the constitution.

“So it does seem like they (the Communist Party) want to have some form of basic human rights to be implemented and it, and it seems like they want it to be done in the judiciary. At the same time, I think they want some kind of monopolize the process so that it’s the party who’s guaranteeing human rights, and respecting human rights, and not as much putting mechanisms or restraints on political power, and especially the party’s power.”

President Xi has spoken about the importance of the constitution before. Yet he has also taken action against his opponents and silenced critics.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by Correspondent Bill Ide in Beijing. George Grow wrote the story for VOA Learning English. The editor was Mario Ritter. Christopher Cruise narrated and produced the program.


Words in This Story

constitution – n. the written, general laws and ideas that form a nation’s system of government

attention n. close or careful observing of, or listening to, someone or something

model n. an example; something, usually small, made to show how something will look or work

citizens n. individuals who are members of a country by birth or by law

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