(03-14) 12:31 PST BEIJING (AP) --
Communist-led China took the historic step Sunday of amending its
constitution to protect the property rights of capitalists who are driving
its economic boom, while promising to focus on helping farmers and
millions of others left behind.
The nation's parliament, making changes dictated by the Communist
Party, also passed an amendment declaring respect for human rights but not
promising free political expression -- a key issue for government critics.
The changes came as the figurehead National People's Congress closed a
10-day annual session dominated by promises to shift development to the
poor countryside, where 800 million Chinese live.
"We should unite all the people of China in focusing on
construction and development in order to build a better future," the
country's No. 2 leader, NPC chairman Wu Bangguo, said in a nationally
televised address to the parliament's closing ceremony.
The outcome of the parliament reflected the ruling party's two-track
strategy for China's immediate future: heavy new spending to help the
rural poor, financed by more economic reform and robust growth, projected
this year at 7 percent.
The amendment on private property is the first of its kind since
China's 1949 communist revolution, but it only brings the constitution
into line with the country's commercial reality.
China already has laws regulating private property, and the
constitution was amended in 1999 to declare private business an
"important component" of the economy. Millions of Chinese own
businesses and apartments and trade shares on the country's two stock
Still, entrepreneurs who are key to plans to create new jobs as state
industry withers lobbied for constitutional protection. Communist leaders
said the amendment, which declares that "private property obtained
legally shall not be violated," was essential to future reforms.
The NPC also approved an amendment writing into the constitution the
political theory of retired President Jiang Zemin, who invited capitalists
to join the ruling party.
Premier Wen Jiabao expressed sympathy for rural Chinese, vowing to step
up efforts to help them. Wen sounded the theme of the parliament when he
said in his report to its opening session that the government would focus
on "putting people first" -- a phrase repeated frequently by
"The hardest lives are led by the farmers, the people in the
countryside," Wen said Sunday at a news conference.
"What I am most concerned about are the issues most pivotal to our
people. These can be solved by reform, innovations and pushing forward
Wen, China's chief economic official, acknowledged the challenge of
controlling an economy whose growth rate last year hit a sizzling 9.1
percent, prompting fears of inflation. He noted that consumer prices rose
while the country's grain production fell.
"This test is no less severe than the outbreak of severe acute
respiratory syndrome a year ago," he said. "If we fail to manage
the situation well, setbacks to the economy would be inevitable."
Wen promised to redouble efforts to fight the rampant corruption that
has fueled public rage and threatens to erode economic growth and
acceptance of communist rule.
"At the heart of the anti-corruption struggle is the very survival
of our party and our country," Wen said.
Despite its severe tone, however, the warning about the threat to the
party was a repeat of comments by other officials in recent years, and Wen
announced no new initiatives.
The human rights amendment is brief, saying simply that "the state
respects and preserves human rights." It does not define human
rights, but communist leaders often say they include rights to food and
housing, rejecting criticism of their attempts to suppress political and
The amendment adding Jiang's theory to the constitution makes the
awkwardly titled "Three Represents" part of China's official
ideology, alongside that of communist founder Mao Zedong and Deng
Xiaoping, who launched the country's economic reforms.
The amendment does not mention Jiang by name, but its passage
represents a personal victory for the 77-year-old former leader in his
quest for a place in history.
Jiang led China from 1989 until he stepped down as party leader in late
2002. He retired as president last year but still serves as chairman of
the powerful committee that runs China's military.
Jiang, still an NPC delegate, joined President Hu Jintao and other
officials onstage Sunday at the hulking Great Hall of the People to vote
on the constitutional changes.
The vote adopting the slate of amendments was 2,863-10, with 17
abstaining. The lopsided tally showed the changes "reflect the will
of the Chinese people," Wen said.
Jia Jilan, an older woman representing a farming region of the northern
province of Shanxi, said, "I believe this congress has been very
Wen's March 5 report "spoke of the truth and the troubles the
farmers are facing," Jia said. "I believe we can use this to
help the nation, and farmers, move toward a well-off society."