After more than a quarter-century of market-oriented economic policies and record-setting growth, China on Friday enacted its first law to protect private property explicitly.Wow, at first blush this sounds very promising, doesn't it? These first two paragraphs make it sound as if the Chinese legislature held a debate on a policy issue and in true democratic fashion reached a decision that will ultimately lead to a stronger middle class, and raising hopes of increased capitalist growth and democracy. Well, read on my friends, the rosy glow fades quickly.
The measure, which was delayed a year ago amid vocal opposition from resurgent socialist intellectuals and old-line, left-leaning members of the ruling Communist Party, is viewed by its supporters as building a new and more secure legal foundation for private entrepreneurs and the country’s urban middle-class home and car owners.
But delays in pushing it through the Communist Party’s generally pliant legislative arm, the National People’s Congress, and a ban on news media discussion of the proposal, raise questions about the underlying intentions and the governing style of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, experts say.So while it would appear that China is still moving forward in their advance toward capitalism, a similar move toward democracy is still a long way away.
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The leadership did not so much overcome opposition to the property law as forbid it. Unlike in 2005, when leaders invited broad discussion about property rights, the latest drafts of the law were not widely circulated. Several left-leaning scholars, who favor preserving some elements of China’s eroded socialist system, said they had come under pressure from their universities to stay silent.
When one financial magazine, Caijing, defied the Propaganda Department’s ban on reporting on the matter and published a cover story last week, it was ordered to halt distribution and reprint the issue without the offending article, people associated with the magazine said.
While strengthening the Middle Class is often a necessary step toward establishing democracy, it is not a fait accompli. As long as the Chinese government continues to suppress civil liberties, democracy is not likely to take root. There is still a long battle ahead before that happens, if it ever does.