Landmark reforms establish authority of Xi as China’s president

Civil rights groups warn changes need to be coupled with deeper policy shift

“Reform and opening up will decide the destiny of modern China. It is also the key to realising the dream of national rejuvenation,”  China’s president Xi Jinping said. Photograph:  Kim Kyung-Hoon-Pool/Getty Images

“Reform and opening up will decide the destiny of modern China. It is also the key to realising the dream of national rejuvenation,” China’s president Xi Jinping said. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon-Pool/Getty Images

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 01:05

A landmark 60-point reform plan by China’s ruling Communist Party, including an easing of the one-child policy and the abolition of “re-education through labour” camps, shows how President Xi Jinping has asserted his authority at the helm of the world’s second biggest economy.

The document was issued a week after a four-day, closed-door conclave of its top leaders earlier this month and contains unprecedented policy shifts, even while some changes reaffirmed existing trends. As expected, it deals heavily with economic reform, but the changes in social areas go far beyond what expectations.

China’s restrictive system of household registration, known as the hukou, is to end in smaller cities and townships, and farmers will be given more rights to their land.

There will be efforts to integrate urban and rural social security systems and push forward with an environmental tax. There will be moves to reduce “step by step” the number of crimes covered by the death penalty, and a national security commission will be established.

Xi has appointed a high-level group to oversee the implementation of the document and “ensure smoothness of the country’s reform”.

“Reform and opening up will decide the destiny of modern China. It is also the key to realising the dream of national rejuvenation,” Xi said.

He makes references to the late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, whose reforms in the late 1970s and the early 1980s helped China open up to the world and triggered decades of economic growth.

The reforms are aimed at shoring up support for the Communist Party and boosting economic growth and social stability. The document contains familiar Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, as well as frequent references to Xi’s “China Dream” slogan, a sign he has entrenched his authority in the Standing Committee of the politburo. “Only socialism can save China, and only reform and opening up can develop China, socialism and Marxism,” he said.

Xi has pointed to moves to open the capital account: private capital will be allowed to set up banks; and state-owned enterprises will have to give more back to the state.

There is also a high-profile change to the one-child policy of population control, giving the green light to couples who want to have two children, if one of the parents is an only child, has earned a lot of headlines, although in reality this merely confirms existing demographic norms of people in cities having fewer children.

One-child policy shift

Wang Pei’an, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, told Xinhua

the number of couples covered by the new policy was not very large across the country.

“China’s population will not grow substantially in the short term,” he said. The health ministry has also said the policy, in place for more than 30 years, will remain for now.

Amnesty International said the decision to abolish “re-education through labour” camps was a step in the right direction but warned it would remain cosmetic unless efforts were made to tackle abuses of the country’s overall detention system, such as the “black jails” for locking up petitioners.

“The reality is that the authorities are finding new ways to punish the same types of people, including sending them to other types of arbitrary detention,” said Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher at Amnesty International.

A fundamental change in policies that drive the punishment and targeting of individuals such as petitioners, human rights activists and Falun Gong members was needed, she said.

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