Feng Xin: Thanks for joining me for the special episode of Digest China. Over the past 11 days, my colleagues and I were covering China's two annual sessions, or "lianghui", in Beijing. The two sessions included the National People's Congress, or the NPC, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, or the CPPCC. Thousands of representatives from all over the country gathered in Beijing for what are considered China's most important annual political events. The officials discuss bills and proposals, as well as various legislative and social issues.
Feng Xin: If you want to know more about how the two sessions function, we made a short animated video answering some of the most frequently asked questions. You can watch it by clicking on our previous show: What are China's two sessions?
Feng Xin: We have interviewed dozens of NPC deputies and CPPCC members. We invite you to watch eight interview segments we think best represent the topics discussed during the political events.
Feng Xin: One of the main items on this year's NPC agenda was a review of the draft amendment to China's Criminal Procedure Law. There are revisions to 110 articles in the current law, which was enacted in 1979 and last revised in 1996. Sixteen years have passed. What have been changed?
Song Yushui: I think the most important change is that the amendment attaches equal importance to punishing crimes and protecting human rights. I think these are two key parts. In terms of punishing crimes, the evidentiary system is fundamental. We need to have a complete evidentiary system to make sure suspects who are indeed guilty receive the punishment they deserve and innocent people are protected at the same time. It plays a key role in conviction and penalty.
Song Yushui: One of the highlights of the drafted amendment is that it encourages witnesses to appear in court to testify. If a witness fails to appear in court, the court may compel him or her to do so. In addition, the drafted amendment puts more emphasis on protecting human rights. That is to say, even if someone is a criminal suspect, his or her rights need to be guaranteed procedurally. The drafted amendment includes a lot of specific requirements.
Song Yushui: One more highlight is on the death penalty. The drafted amendment puts forth strict death sentence principles. Obviously there have always been two sides of views on the death penalty. Some think we should abolish capital punishment. But I think so far in our country absolute abolishment of death sentences is not quite realistic because of the complexity of our country and the huge population. However, we need to be as cautious as possible (when using capital punishment). I think this is necessary.
Feng Xin: It's been more than a year since the central and local governments in China imposed restrictive purchase policies in various cities. The purpose was to discourage overinvestment in the real estate market and bring down property prices. On March 5, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in his Government Work Report that the government will continue to regulate the real estate market and complete 5 million units of low-income housing in 2012. What do all these policies mean?
Wang Jianlin: The central government's policies have two sentences: The first sentence is "preventing real estate risks and boosting industrial development". This means withdrawing investment from real estate and relocating it in industries. That's one goal. The second sentence is "safeguarding people's livelihood", but so far it's only been about building low-income housing. As far as I understand the policies, the goal is to guarantee that 20% of the urban population will be living in low-income houses by the end of 2015. However, the number of people who have actual demand to buy houses but cannot afford to do so is far more than 20%. They probably account for 60% or 70%. This means 40% or 50% of (those) people are not able to own a house through the low-income housing system. They have to buy commodity housing. So how can the middle-income people's livelihood be guaranteed? I think we should revert to the old prime rate.
Wang Jianlin: My prediction for this year can be summarized in one sentence: Housing prices around China will be stable with slight decline. First, if we look at the first two months, the linked relative ratio of housing prices in 70 major Chinese cities all stopped rising. These 70 cities account for more than 80% of China's real estate market. Although China has more than 2,000 counties and 600 cities, these 70 cities make up most of China's real estate market. So if the housing prices in these 70 cities are controlled well, China's real estate market is basically stable. The 70 cities' linked relative ratio has already stopped rising. The central government's restrictive policies remain firm. The currency value only goes up 14%, still keeping appropriately tight. Plus people's expectations are changing – both real estate developers' and consumers' expectations are changing – when these three forces unite, I think housing prices will definitely be stable with slight decline this year.
Feng Xin: According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, about 150 million migrant workers left home to work in other provinces in 2011. Many had to leave their wives behind in the countryside. What challenges and difficulties do these women face in life?
Zhen Yan: As far as we know, there are about 40 million 'left-behind' women in the countryside, taking care of the land, the family, the children and the elderly people. They often face hardships during busy seasons when no one is there to help. They can often get very tired when they have to take care of all the house work without any help. When educating children, they are also on their own and can get very anxious. In terms of supporting elderly parents, their burden is heavy, too.
Zhen Yan: Of course, there's the issue you just mentioned, which is about their safety. We have learned that these women are often victims of burglary. For example, their cows are stolen, and important items get stolen. Another thing is sexual harassment. There are such issues. We also have to pay attention to some left-behind girls who were sexually molested. I think we need to curb such cases with determination.
Feng Xin: Yunnan province in southwest China has been experiencing a severe drought for three consecutive years. According to Yunnan's Bureau of Civil Affairs, as of February 2012 more than 2.3 million people are having difficulty accessing drinking water, and more than 6.3 million people have been affected. Take its capital city Kunming as an example. How bad is the situation right now?
Zhang Zulin: (Yunnan) only had two years worth of rain in three years. The water storage in our city's reservoirs has been at less than half (the total capacity) since last fall. Kunming's city and rural residents have been relying on a limited amount of water for living and production. So when a drop of water is used, there is one less. By far, the water storage in our reservoirs - if we tighten our belt - may sustain us until the middle of May when the rain season comes, but it could be difficult. If we waste water, we can barely make it until mid May. There will be serious water famine.
Feng Xin: At its annual Central Economic Work Conference in December 2011, the Chinese government vowed to improve the business environment for China's small-to-medium sized entrepreneurs. The conference usually sets the tone for China's economic development next year. Many NPC deputies and CPPCC members brought up this issue again during this year's two sessions. What exactly are the difficulties China's small-to-medium sized companies have to face? What can the government do to make their business environment better?
Zhu Chenggang: Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) have played a very important role in our economic development. They contribute 50% of the GDP. But their biggest contribution is in creating jobs, making up 90% of the employment. But in recent years, SMEs have encountered many difficulties in their development. One major difficulty lies in getting bank loans. I think it's mainly due to the inequality embedded in different natures of ownership. Banks face two different risks when lending money to State-owned enterprises and SMEs. Banks only face business risks when lending money to the former. However, they have to face both business risks as well as moral hazard when lending money to the latter. Under such circumstances, it's natural for banks to be reluctant to lend money to SMEs.
Zhu Chenggang: Secondly, it's very common for local governments to directly participate in local economies, so governments are the main players. As a result, they have a natural incentive to expand their businesses. If they are the lead players in economic activities, they must pursue big enterprises.
Zhu Chenggang: Thirdly, we need to amend some of the economic objectives we pursue. In terms of economic objectives, local governments, in fact, want GDP and revenue. However, if we make creating employment opportunities the government's number one goal, SMEs make the largest contribution, even though they don't contribute much to revenue. Given such economic objectives, it's natural that governments prefer big enterprises. If these deeply rooted problems are not solved, it's hard to improve SMEs' business environment.
Feng Xin: The 11th National People's Congress announced in October 2011 that it would consider introducing legislation on domestic violence; lawmakers are currently researching and investigating that possibility. In 2009, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passed its Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance. What were some of the controversies Hong Kong lawmakers debated? What legislative experiences can the Chinese mainland share?
Chan Yuen-han: During the process, there were two main arguments. What's the definition of marriage? Does it have to be between two people of the opposite sex? Or can it be between people with the same sex? This was a big argument. Another was about the scope of the law. Are parents and the elderly included in the law? Or maybe children should be included, as well. This was also a main argument. I think in traditional Chinese culture, people don't wash their dirty laundry in public. It's important to break up the traditional concept. I believe any family can have issues. The key question is how to solve problems that cannot be solved behind closed doors. If we have legislation it can at least warn those who are about to commit violence, telling them to step back.
Feng Xin: According to media reports, several Chinese provinces recently announced plans to implement a policy asking people who take an HIV test to provide their names. Such proposals invited immediate debate. What are the pros and cons of real-name HIV testing?
Shao Yiming: You know AIDS is a stigmatized disease. So in society there is still a lot of discrimination against AIDS. You can imagine real-name testing will cause a lot of concerns. Actually, any (issue) has two sides. For anonymous testing, it provides a better guarantee for the infected people to not be identified (and) not be discriminated against. But the health agencies do not know them. And the governments do not know the real epidemic figure. And in the current AIDS control and prevention, you always combine prevention with treatment and care. So without knowing the people's identity, it is difficult to provide the care, counseling and treatment for them. Because the treatment is life-long, you have to know the people–where they are, send them drugs regularly. So it's a double-edged sword.
Shao Yiming: But the policy currently implemented in China is that screening tests are still anonymous, so you don't need to tell your name to do an HIV test. It's only at the second stage to confirm the diagnosis, providing you with a diagnosis document and then linking you with care and treatment. At that stage we encourage patients to be identified.
Feng Xin: On March 11, the president of the Supreme People's Court, Wang Shengjun, gave his annual work report to NPC deputies and CPPCC members. He said courts around China brought 278 food-safety cases to trial and convicted 320 suspects in 2011. In a Digest China poll we posted along our last show, our viewers ranked food safety as the most concerning issue. What can the government do to make our food safer?
Lei Xiaoling: In terms of our testing ability and degree of enforcement, we are not really behind other countries. Pretty much all the required items are being tested. Also, the frequency of our sampling test–the size of the sample isn't small. We have more supervision personnel than other countries have. Therefore, I think food safety problems probably have a lot to do with the severity of punishment. It needs to be made harsher. We also need to establish a social credit system. In fact, the administration of food is many-headed. For example, agricultural products are supervised by agricultural departments. Aquatic products are supervised by fishery departments. There might be problems with unclear responsibilities. So we are trying to convince the government to integrate some key departments, including testing institutions. Then we can improve the efficiency in the supervision of our food safety.
Feng Xin: That's your special episode of Digest China. Thanks for watching.
From March 3 to 14, thousands of representatives from all over the country gathered in Beijing for what are considered China's most important annual political events, the "two sessions" or "lianghui" in Chinese. The two sessions included the National People's Congress, or the NPC, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, or the CPPCC. NPC deputies and CPPCC members discussed bills and proposals as well as various legislative and social issues. We have interviewed dozens of them. We invite you to watch eight interview segments we think best represent the topics discussed during the political events.