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People Focus on Constitutional Amendment

"If such an idea as the protection of lawful private property is written into China's Constitution, some local governments and real estate developers would feel less confident about recklessly leveling private residences," said Shanghai-based real estate lawyer Liu Weiping Tuesday. Liu specializes in preventing the illegal demolition of residential property.

Liu made the remark in reference to the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which are scheduled to open in early March.

Deliberation on the draft amendment to the Constitution, which has been drawing attention in all circles, will be placed high on the agenda for the NPC session.

It will be the Constitution's fourth amendment, involve 14 revisions and cover a wide range of issues of public concern not tackled before.

The protection of citizens' lawful private property and respect for and protection of human rights are expected to be written into the Constitution. Some revisions will also be made to improve the land acquisition, social welfare and insurance systems.

The current Constitution, which contains 138 articles in four chapters, was formulated in 1982. It has been amended three times, with a total of 17 revisions.

"Adding 'respect for and protection of human rights' to the Constitution shows that securing citizens' rights will be promoted to a very high level," says Professor Liu Jitong of Peking University's Sociology Department.

Wang Yufeng, a 25-year-old white-collar worker in a private company, said that although he has a handsome salary now, he and his colleagues still worry about whether their future pensions and medical care will be ensured. Many people like Wang even choose to emigrate to other countries.

"We hope the country's social welfare and insurance system will not only care for the disadvantaged, but also pay attention to white-collar workers," he says.

Professor Wang Lei, from the Law School of Peking University, said improving the social insurance system will be included in the Constitution this time because China's existing market economy calls for a matching system of social welfare and insurance to meet increasing public demand for social security.

Hot issues abound

But amending the Constitution is not the only hot issue these days.

One of China's largest news websites posed the question to its users, "What issues in the upcoming NPC and CPPCC sessions attract you most?" The list was long, including anti-corruption, unbalanced regional economic development, the income gap, boosting farmers' income, education costs, legal rights of migrant workers, the emergency response system for public health and the March 20 referendum in Taiwan.

Halting corruption is the top concern for some 83 percent of those who responded to the survey.

People said the central government's determination to fight corruption can be seen in the punishment of 13 ministerial-level officials for corruption, including the former vice governor of Anhui Province, Wang Huaizhong, and the former minister of land and resources, Tian Fengshan, in 2003.

"We still need a lot of improvement in the emergency response system for public health, although we have such a system since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003," says Zhang Baolan, director of the Medical Department of the PLA's Central Hospital.

During the annual sessions, NPC deputies and CPPCC members are expected to hear the government work report, a report on the plans for economic and social development, a budget report, and work reports from the NPC Standing Committee, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

They will review the past year's work by the central government and also arrange plans for the coming year.

Professor Wu Jiang, of the National School of Administration, believes the central authorities have worked efficiently and effectively over the past year, citing such areas as fighting SARS, making efforts to curb unemployment, increasing farmers' income and realizing an annual economic growth rate of 9.1 percent.

"More importantly, the new central government has adopted a down-to-earth attitude and formed a work style of seeking truth in their leadership," says Wu. "All this may lead the public to believe that the reports made by the government are not only a summary of the past year's work, but also will exert far-reaching influence on the future lives of the Chinese people."

(China Daily February 25, 2004)

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