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Chinese thumbs up for Constitutional protection of private assets
"Great! " Liu Yonghao, chairman of the board of Sichuan New Hope Group, hailed in a joyous tune when asked to speak on the proposed amendment to the Chinese Constitution that is to enshrine the right to own private property.
"Legally-obtained private property of the citizens shall not be violated," according to a clause expected to be written into the Constitution when Chinese legislators end their annual full session here next Sunday. The draft Constitutional amendments were formally submitted to the session for deliberation Monday afternoon.
While China nouveaux-riches such as Liu, once picked as the wealthiest man on the Chinese mainland by Forbes, are -- quite unsurprisingly -- waiting anxiously for a smooth adoption of the amendments, others, especially those from the needy, disadvantaged groups, are also expecting substantial benefits from this landmark change.
"It is completely wrong for a few people to believe that the proposed revision will simply protect the interests of the rich," said Prof. Cai Dingjian, with the prestigious China University of Political Science and Law. "Actually, the amendment aims at safeguarding the common interests of all social strata at a time when both private assets and private investments are amassing rapidly."
To some extent, the amendment is more crucial to those in disadvantaged social groups, whose interests are often easier to be jeopardized, said Cai, an expert on China's parliamentary system.
Many scholars hold that once the Constitutional amendment on the protection of private property is adopted, some thorny issues of private property infringements, such as forcible demolition of old urban residential houses and relocation of private house owners, wage arrears facing rural migrant workers in the cities and illegal expropriation of rural farmland, will be deemed as "a blunt violation of the State's fundamental law."
Sun Jinpeng, a Beijing taxi driver with the Capital Taxi Corporation Ltd., was outraged when a real estate developer, with the backing of local government departments, asked him to move out of his small, rundown apartment in downtown area for a compensation of 50,000 yuan (US$6,000).
"With such tiny sum of money," said Sun, "I cannot buy a downtown apartment again, but I can't move to the outskirts as my daughter attends a school in the city center."
"If the Constitution really starts to protect everyone's private property, I don't think the developers will go on doing things at my cost any more," he said.
Actually, cases like Sun's are not rare in China today. According to Zhang Chengqi, director of the provincial audit department of north China's Hebei province, it has been common across China that private houses, apartments or cropland are taken away for commercial development or urbanization, with little money paid to their owners in compensations.
Yu Dina, a farmer lawmaker from eastern Anhui province, said approximately 40 million Chinese farmers had lost their farmland due to urbanization or so-called "development", and the figure was estimated to increase by more than 2 million a year.
A 2003 survey also showed that about 60 percent of the land- losing farmers had suffered infringements of their rights and interests and as a result are living in need.
Although all land in China is owned by the State, noted law experts, the right to till the land, as guaranteed by the rural land contracting system, constitutes the primary means of subsistence for the farmers and, therefore, should be regarded as part of their private property.
In recent years, a growing number of rural surplus laborers have moved into the cities and towns in pursuit of a better life. But their rights were often seriously violated as many illegal construction project contractors deliberately delayed their payment, for months or even for years.
By the end of 2003, total wage arrears owed to the 85-million-strong rural migrant workers in the cities were estimated at a whopping 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion), prompting the government to take action against some illegal employers.
"As those belonging to the weaker social groups are mostly poorly educated with a lack of law awareness, they often do not have any idea of protecting their rights and interests through legal means," said Wang Li, chief lawyer of the Beijing Deheng Law Firm.
The highly-publicized Constitutional amendment, which from the very beginning had become a focus of public attention and triggered heated social discussions, will help increase the law awareness of people and enable them to know how to better protect themselves, said Wang.
"Moreover, once the amendment is adopted, it will also offer a primary, solid legal basis for the commoners to negotiate with government officials over compensation issues when their private property is encroached upon," she added.
Sociologists also acknowledged that a better legal protection of private property will help eliminate the worries of those people who aspire to become rich some day.
"Now the Chinese citizen, feeling absolutely safe with their personal assets, will surely be bolder and more daring in doing businesses and more ready to direct their savings to investment," a Beijing investment analyst predicted.