China's lawmakers are again debating a controversial law on the protection of private property as they struggle with the concept that experts say "could undermine the legal foundation of China's socialist system."
The latest draft has included "the protection of state, collective, and private property" as the main principle of legislation.
The nearly 200 legislators attending the current session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) are debating the law for the sixth time. No law has ever had more than five readings.
The committee members are debating adding clauses to the law that will prevent fraudulent acquisitions and mergers of state assets.
"People who (fraudulently) create losses of state assets through restructuring, acquisition, or insider trading shall be held responsible by law," says the sixth version of the bill, which was submitted to the country's top legislation for debate on Friday.
It is another move by the bill's drafters to highlight the protection of state property in the wake of strong calls from the public to curb corrupt officials and businessmen who connive to take over state assets for their own benefit under cover of "business deals."
The 45-page draft also protects individual rights to bank accounts, earned profits and residential property.
"The property bill should reflect the actual economic situation in China with the focus on solving the urgent needs in economic development," said Hu Kangsheng, deputy director of the Law Committee of NPC.
"We should learn from foreign experiences on drafting similar laws, but should not blindly copy them," Hu told the NPC Standing Committee on Friday.
The bill was first submitted to the legislature in 2002 and has gone through a rare fifth reading. It was withdrawn from the NPC's full session last March amid worries that the law, the country's first to protect private ownership, could undermine China's socialist system if the rights of individuals superceded the state's right to care for the collective good.
Opposition faded after drafters revised the fifth version, debated last August, which puts rights of state ownership at the heart of the economic system.
"The biggest problem is that corrupt government officials conspire with businessmen to prey on state assets in the process of restructuring and merging," said Huang Shuhe, deputy director of State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
Huang cited a recent case in western Shaanxi Province, where the state-owned Shaanxi Crops Group was acquired by a relatively small private firm. Within a year, the net profits of the group slumped from 117 million yuan (US$14.6 million) to 333 million yuan (US$42.2 million) in deficit.
(Xinhua News Agency October 28, 2006)