11/16/2013, 00.00
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One-child law and laojiaos, hopes and fears ahead of Plenum’s final document

by Chen Weijun
Despite proclamations in national press, the touted reforms of Xi Jinping’s leadership have yet to be officially sealed. Analysts and experts divided between skepticism and optimism, while the number 3 of the Party appeals to "all to cooperate " to carry forward the plan passed by the Plenum. Either way it will not be implemented until 2020.

Beijing ( AsiaNews) - The Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party had decided to "relax" the one-child policy in force in the country and stop sentencing against dissidents , activists and common criminals to hard labor. These decisions, however, are all still mere rumors leaked to press, while Party officials point out that "we must still wait for" the final text of the Plenum , which will be released on November 19 . The delay of the publication of the document is apparently fruit of a serious split within the Communist leadership.

The opening title of Xinhua - the central government news agency - states "China decides to loosen one-child policy". The article quotes President Xi Jinping, who, during the meeting of Communist leaders would have said : " To push forward sustainable, healthy economic and social development, there is no other way but to deepen reforms and opening up". However, it does not specify which areas should be reformed and opened up.

According to Guo Zhenwei, a demographer and official from the Commission for family planning, the reform " will be carried out in phases. Most likely will leave those provinces that have a long history of low birth rates, such as those of the East , and then it will be expanded to the entire nation. But full liberalization will not happen before 2020". There are still diverse hypothesis for  now: some argue that a second child will be allowed for couples with one child only, others think that the reform will be valid only for those born in the second half of the seventies. In any case, as Guo admits , " the birth rate should not exceed 1.8. At the moment we are between 1.5 and 1.6 ." To balance the proportion of births and deaths a birth rate of at least 2.1 is needed.

The reform of China's birth policy is termed "critical" by economists and social analysts. According to Chinese demographic experts, 117 male babies are born in China for every 100 girls , a disproportion that collides violently with the world average of 104 males per 100 females . Since 1978 only one child is allowed to urban residents and two to rural farmers . The country went from 5.83 children per couple in the 70s, to 2.1 children in 1990, arriving at the current 1.3. Experts estimate that there are currently about 40 million males "with no ability" to marry a fellow citizen. This is creating a social imbalance and threatens to smash the state coffers, since no labor force means no pensions. There are also problems in the health sector, forced to take care of millions of senior citizens who do not have children or families who can support them.

Doubts and uncertainties also surround the possibility of abolishing the laojiao prison system, which has existed since the days of Mao Zedong. Often Christians , dissidents , Falun Gong members are sentenced to them. The state-run newspaper China Daily reports that there are about 320 laojiao labour camps, where 500 thousand people are confined, mostly criminals from the drugs world. Labor camps - organized as farms or industries - where the prisoners have a punishing schedule, up to 12-15 hours a day, for little monthly pay.

The abolition of the system has been announced on and off for about a year, and the continuous round of  confirmations and denials seems to have been a way to test the response of the population and the of the national leadership before putting the abolition into practice. Nicholas Bequelin , a researcher with Human Rights Watch, argues that "the tiger does not change its stripes. Given that ' maintaining stability ' is the government's obsession, they will find another form of extra- judicial detention with which to replace the labour camps".

The third and final planned reform relates to the economy. According to reports, the final document is prepared to allow the privatization of economic giants until today in the hands of the State : telecommunications, transportation and banking. From a technical point of view, those who want to henceforth invest in national projects will no longer need government permission unless it is programs related to national security, ecology, strategic industrial distribution and that of natural resources. According to some economists, this is very good news, since it actually opens up the market to raise fresh capital from abroad.  However other analysts point out that less government control could lead to industrial decisions that could worsen the situation of workers and thus to create more social instability. Another step for reform is the demand that the state-owned industries pay to the Government 30 % of their profits. So far they have had to give up 5-20 % .

The fact that the reform plan has not been unanimously approved by the Plenum is also demonstrated by the appeal launched today by Zhang Dejiang , chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress "number 3" in the new Communist hierarchy . Zhang today asked "all members of the Party" to " fully understand the importance of the Plenum". In an article that appeared this morning in the People's Daily ,  he wrote: "We must work as one man to put the decisions and political plans into practice. We all have to take responsibility for what is happening." However , as noted by Zhang, the President Xi Jinping and his team know the work of "problems" and "hidden unknowns" of the national situation and have until 2020 to " achieve decisive results". The reference is to the hundreds of social variables that might call into question the stronghold of Chinese politics; the monopoly of the Communist Party that must be protected above all else.


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