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Draft Property Law Under Fifth Review
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Chinese lawmakers have achieved an ideological consensus on the much talked about proposed property law that upholds the equal protection of state and private property.

On Wednesday, debates on the draft law, which is into its fifth reading in the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, then focused on specific issues such as the ownership of parking space, the transfer of rural housing, and the law's coverage of rivers and oceans.

"I totally agree with the revision that confirms the dominant role of state ownership," said Huang Jinsong, a deputy to the NPC, referring to an additional clause that provides for punishment for managers found responsible for frittering away assets in state firms.

Drafters said the clause was introduced amid mounting public anger over poor management of state firms and rampant corruption that had resulted in very significant losses.

Placing state ownership at the core of the system has appeased opponents of the draft law who earlier claimed that the law, the country's first that specifically protects private ownership, would undermine the legal foundation of China's socialist economy.

This concern is believed to have been the major reason for the withdrawal of the draft law from the annual NPC session in March. Legislative sources had said that important differences existed on the understanding of key issues.

"I think the revision is excellent. It seems that the opinions of most lawmakers are no longer in conflict on the issue," said Yang Xingfu, a member of the NPC Standing Committee.

However, the debate is not over because lawmakers still hold different opinions on other issues.

Some lawmakers said the law should allow urban residents to buy or build houses on land set aside for residential construction in rural areas.

"A lot of urban residents have been buying houses in the countryside in search of cleaner air and water, and this is becoming a trend," Yang said. "How do we deal with the houses they buy if this kind of operation is banned by the law?"

Wan Xuewen, another NPC lawmaker, echoed Yang's opinion, saying that there are also some villages that sell rural houses at lower prices to attract high-tech talents or capable teachers from cities.

His opinion was opposed by Yang Xinre, a member of NPC's Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, who contended that if the law made such exceptions, more urban residents would rush to buy rural houses leaving farmers with nowhere to live.

Another controversial issue is whether the draft would allow farmers to mortgage farmland and in what conditions the government could requisition urban residential land.

Hu Kangsheng, vice chairman of the NPC's Legal Affairs Committee, said that farmland mortgages could not be approved and the property law would not deal with the issue of land requisition.

The draft stipulates that the government can only requisition land for public interest but the definition of "public interest" in this context would be dealt with at a later stage, Hu said.

Hu said the draft made clear that reasonable compensation would be offered to people who lose their homes in requisition deals.

Despite the ongoing debate, many lawmakers on Wednesday said the draft was almost ready to be voted on.

"After years of discussion, I think the draft is relatively well-balanced, and I suggest the NPC endorse the law soon," said Cui Lintao, a lawmaker from the Shaanxi provincial legislature, who was invited to hear the panel discussion on Wednesday.

The draft law was first submitted to the NPC in 2002 and has gone through a rare fifth reading. Drafts typically only require three readings.

Lawmakers have also taken into consideration the suggestions of more than 15,000 members of the general public.

Sources said the law could be passed during next year's full NPC session.

(Xinhua News Agency August 24, 2006)

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