11/18/2013, 00.00
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As China relents on one-child policy, Third Plenum's contradictions show

by Wang Zhicheng
No "relaxation" on birth control says deputy director of China's National Health and Family Planning Commission. Proposed reforms are set to enhance the role of private capital, but state monopolies are praised. Farmers will be allowed to sell but not own land. The laojiao system is set to be scrapped, but people will still be arrested without charges. Resistance remains with the party.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - After the world welcomed and praised the decision by the third plenum to relax China's one-child policy, Wang Peian, the deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, disputed the use of the word "relaxation" to describe the changes. In his view, "Family planning policy should be maintained in the long term," he explained.

Under new rules, couples can have a second child if one parent was an only child, a drop in the bucket since only 20 million people will be able to exercise this right at a time when raising a child is already very expensive, and stopping many couples from having a second child.

Ovations notwithstanding, reforms announced at the end of the Third Plenum are not likely to go very far. Indeed, even though Yu Zhengsheng, the No 4 member of the Politburo Standing Committee, predicted "unprecedented reforms", little is known of them except for short excerpts. Xinhua did publish a longer extract, but the full text is not yet available.

Overall, proposed reforms would place greater focus on market forces, private capital and foreign investment. Farmers would be allowed to sell land at market prices. Provincial debt and finances would come under closer scrutiny and the tax system would be overhauled. The laojiao (re-education through labour) system, which includes administrative detention without charges and forced labour camps, would be abolished.

Such "unprecedented" reforms are not likely to be implemented and if they are, they have too many contradictions. For example, the draft proposal calls for an open market, easier private and foreign investment, but also insists that the state sector will remain the backbone of the economy. At the same time, it says that farmers will be allowed to transfer and mortgage their land-use rights, but it fails to define whether farmers have land ownership. At present, they can only lease the land.

The issue of the laojiao system is also full of ambiguities. Re-education through labour camps are set to be scrapped in order to "improve the law on the punishment and correction of criminal acts"; however, it is not clear if administrative detentions will also be eliminated, a practice that allows police to arrest people without charges.

As the Plenum took place, petitioners held for months were found in unknown 'black jails'.

The ambiguities and contradictions of the proposed changed are also due to the fact that not everyone within the party likes them. Instead of bold new moves to change the economy, politics and laws, it is more likely that small indecisive steps will be taken.

A few days before the Plenum, Prime Minister Li Keqiang chided local governments. Local authorities must not be allowed to "play tricks or conduct reform as a mere formality," he said.

From this point of view, it is important to note that the Third Plenum decided to set up a national security committee chaired by President Xi Jinping, tasked with creating harmony between social groups as well as ensure national security and social stability.

Until now, the national security was designed to "prevent and resolve social contradictions," clamp down on dissent, activism, and more than 180,000 "mass incidents" each year.

Perhaps, the committee might now do the same with resistance within the Party.

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