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Opinion - 63. page

Not an Easy Bill

For the Chinese regime, it is never difficult to pass a law as long as the communist leadership needs it. However, it took eight years for a property rights law to finally pass when the curtain fell recently on the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

A History of Controversies

In 1994, the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) submitted a proposal to the central authorities, suggesting that the authorities draft a new property rights law. According to media reports, when CAS was revising the Contract Law, it had difficulties in defining the basic rights of parties involved in the property transactions. Therefore, CAS proposed to draft a property law to overcome the difficulties.

Five years later, the first draft of the property rights law was submitted by the CAS to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (SCNPC). However, voices of objection greeted the first draft. The main objection was that the draft did not "sufficiently reflect socialistic characteristics." In April 2001, another version of the property law came out of the People’s University, and the debates escalated.

Later, the Legal Works Committee under the SCNPC made an "official" draft of the property law based on both versions of the CAS and People’s University. Beginning in 2002, the property law has been subjected to five reviews.

After 2004, when China added a clause to its constitution saying that private property was "not to be encroached upon," the controversies intensified.

In June 2005, a special clause to protect state-owned assets was added to the bill, which stipulated that management of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) is responsible for the loss of value of state-owned assets.

In August 2005, a law professor at Peking University, Gong Xiantian, wrote an open letter to Wu Bangguo, Chair of the NPC, calling the proposed bill unconstitutional. Later, Li Chengrui, former chief of the State Statistics Bureau, launched a letter campaign to collect signatures against the bill. The more than 3,000 signers included seven former government ministers or deputy ministers, five former provincial leaders, a few retired senior military officers, and about 50 professors at the Communist Party’s Central School, a place that trains top Party officials.

At the same time, there were others who supported the bill, calling it a show of respect for private property and an aid to reinforcing social stability. Many of them encouraged the passage of the bill to protect the private economy.{mospagebreak}

The debates were so intense that at the NPC in 2006, the bill was not even put on the agenda for a vote. Not until the recently concluded NPC, after the situation had been clarified, did the authorities show their resolve to get the law passed.

Who Owns What?

The question to ask is why the regime needs this law at this moment. The Chinese Communist Party has been ruling China for almost 60 years. It was not necessary to define who owned what, as all property was seized from domestic capitalists and landlords during the "liberation" and rounds of political movements after the regime came to power. In name, all the wealth and property belongs to all the people, but in reality it belongs to the Party. Why should the Party bother to make a law to regulate the ownership of the property?

Now the situation is different. Ever since the "reform and opening up" policy was launched in the late 1970s, capitalists from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan have come to China, one after another. Foreign capitalists from the United States, Japan, Europe, and other countries also came to invest. At the same time, there was a certain degree of freedom for domestic capitalists, many of whom were Party members and princelings who "transformed" the state assets into their private assets and became entrepreneurs. Over the past years, foreign and domestic private enterprises have shared a greater and greater portion of the gross domestic products (GDP). In 2006, half of the 4 trillion yuan (US$519 billion) state taxation income came from those enterprises. Of course, it is impossible for the Communist Party to forcefully take away "new" capital assets as it did to the domestic capitalists back in the 1950s. On the contrary, the Party relies on the tax income from those enterprises to maintain its rule. To this end, it is thus important for the Party to pass a law to make sure the properties of the "new" capitalists are well protected; otherwise, they may just transfer their investments to other countries.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is still to protect the interests of the Party. On March 8, 2007, When Wang Zhaoguo, the deputy chair of the NPC, explained the general principles of the law, he said that "it is guided by Deng Xiaoping’s Theory and Three Representatives and sticks to the correct political direction." In other words, the definition of property right needs to be politically correct.

However, some of the extreme leftists inside the Party still strongly oppose the passage of the law because the law clearly acknowledges and protects the rights of private ownership, an even worse backslide from the revision of the constitution in 2004. At the same time, many Party members support the bill in order to protect the assets they obtained legally or illegally.{mospagebreak}

For Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, this was really a difficult choice, and why it took so long for the law to finally be passed. After weighing various pros and cons, Hu-Wen took a middle path, which was to make the property law politically correct in name, and protect private property to a certain degree.

A Law for the Urban Areas

Article 10 of the Constitution of China says: "Land in the cities is owned by the state. Land in the rural and suburban areas is owned by collectives except for those portions that belong to the state in accordance with the law; house sites and private plots of cropland and hilly land are also owned by collectives. The state may in the public interest take over land for its use in accordance with the law. No organization or individual may appropriate, buy, sell or lease land, or unlawfully transfer land in other ways. All organizations and individuals who use land must make rational use of the land."

In the newly passed property law, urban land for construction can now finally be privately owned. This was to solve the dilemma that urban housing can be privately owned while the land is subject to only 70 years of usage. [Note: Before the new law, land could not be privately owned based on the Constitution of China. One could use the land his or her house was built on for up to 70 years. After 70 years, the government would take over ownership of the property. Now this new law allows private ownership, which contradicts the constitution.] This created a new problem for legal scholars. The property law now contradicts the constitution. Which should one follow?

On the other hand, the rural land is still collectively owned. Farmers have as long as 30-year leases but cannot purchase or sell lands. The farmers in rural area still constitute the majority of the Chinese population.

In reality, state ownership is a rather vague concept. There is not a law or regulation that clearly specifies which government agency handles the rural lands. The gray area has given rise to the phenomenon that millions of acres of farmers’ lands are being "transformed" by local officials to state ownership at an extremely low price and then sold at high prices to individuals. This has become one of the major sources of widespread corruption and subsequent social unrest as more and more farmers are being unjustly deprived of their lands.

The newly passed property law, which gives more rights and freedoms to those living in the cities, still puts restrictions on the basic and fundamental rights of farmers. More importantly, it does not regulate many interest groups that continue to abuse farmers’ rights in order to acquire land on a large scale.{mospagebreak}

What Really Matters?

Overseas scholars are questioning the real purpose of passing the law in the same way they question the purpose of the regime’s drive to develop the economy. They see the law as helpful in protecting the accumulated wealth of small interest groups, while the standard of living for the majority of Chinese people still falls short.

On March 5, Premier Wen Jiabao gave a Chinese version of a "State of the Union" address, which was focused on people’s living standard. In his report, Premier Wen mentioned that in 2006, the government spent 77.4 billion yuan (US$10 billion) on the development of science and technology, 53.6 billion (US$7 billion) on education, 13.8 billion (US$1.8 billion) on health care, and 12.3 billion (US$1.6 billion) on cultural programs. The latter three expenses, which are directly tied to people’s everyday lives, added up to 79.7 billion yuan (US$10.4 billion). On a per capita basis, in 2006, the average Chinese received 61 yuan (US$8.0) from the government for education, health care, and cultural programs. Compared with the total fiscal revenue of 3.93 trillion yuan (US$510 billion), the expenses directly related to people’s livelihood amounting to about 2 percent.

According to Hong Kong-based Dongxiang magazine, on December 25, 2006, the Chinese Communist Party Central Disciplinary Committee (CCPCDC) submitted a working report to the Politburo. In a joint investigation by the CCPCDC, the Research Office of the State Council, and the Ministry of Supervision, 2 trillion yuan (US$260 billion) or half of the 2006 government revenues were put to corrupt uses: embezzlement, banquets and dinners, vacations and sightseeing, personal education expenses abroad, gifts, and excessive bonuses. If we assume there are five million government officials, on a per capita basis, an average official consumes 0.4 million yuan (US$52,000) of the government’s fiscal revenue—more than 6,000 times that spent on the average person.

Other scholars are taking the passage of the new law lightly: "Anyway, China is still ruled by the Party, which supersedes all laws. Since the Party routinely violates people’s basic rights endowed by its constitution, why should one care so much about mere words on a paper?"

Li Ding is an economist based in Washington, D.C.

Gao Yaojie: A Doctor with Conscience

It would be naïve to think that all grandmothers are simply a social burden. Gao Yaojie, for one, an 80-year-old retired gynecologist in Henan Province, has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese communist government for the past 10 years. In 1996, she discovered that the spread of AIDS in Henan was due to governmental corruption and deliberate oversight. Since then she has traveled far and wide throughout the nation to raise awareness about the deadly disease. Suppressed by the authorities, she has spent over a million yuan (US$125,000) from her own savings to print and distribute AIDS-awareness flyers, save patients and orphans, and—most courageously—expose the truth of the widespread AIDS epidemic that has resulted from blood-selling campaigns throughout the nation.

In 2001, Dr. Gao was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights by the Global Health Council. In 2002, she was named in Time Asia‘s 25 Greatest Living Asian Heroes, and in 2003 she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

House Arrest

In both 2001 and 2003, she was refused a passport to travel overseas to receive her awards, because local government officials felt that it would greatly embarrass them and adversely affect their prospects for promotion.

In 2007, after years of house arrest, she was again detained at home by a dozen police officers on February 2 to prevent her from traveling to the United States to receive an honor bestowed upon her by the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a well-known nonprofit organization.

On February 13, the eleventh day of her house arrest, she was told to write a letter to authorize someone else to receive the award for her. She said: "I have to write the letter. It looks like it is impossible for me to travel overseas to receive the award. I have no other choice. My son and daughter are both in their 50s already, and they told me that they’ve had all sorts of pressure from the authorities. My daughter has been crying nonstop, and my son told me that if I went overseas, they would all lose their jobs. He knelt in front of me for two days.

"However, I said I cannot lie. I cannot deceive the entire world. I am a doctor, and I cannot lie."

Finally, on February 16, due to the efforts of international organizations, NGOs, and foreign media, the Chinese regime finally gave way. When asked why the Chinese communist government did not want her to travel to the United States to receive awards, she answered, "They’re afraid that I will expose the fact that (illegal) blood selling is the main reason for the AIDS epidemic in China."{mospagebreak}

The pressure from the Chinese authorities is obvious. At the end of the awards ceremony held in Washington D.C., on March 14, 2007, she was asked how she felt. "I feel so unsettled. I do not know what my fate will be when I return to China." As of that date, she had not been able to reach her family in China—the telephone lines had been blocked.

The Official Version: AIDS Spread Mostly Due to Sexual Transmission

For years, the official word from the Chinese regime has been that the AIDS epidemic in China is due to "sexual transmission" or "drug abuse." According to Dr. Gao, however, "The farmers in China now are so poor that they don’t even have money to eat. How could they have money to pay for prostitutes? Modern Chinese society is extremely polarized—the poor are on the brink of death, while the rich are suffocated by their wealth. I am very against such propaganda. The truth is, the majority of AIDS victims contracted the virus through blood donations or transfusions."

In the early 1990s, blood-selling stations mushroomed throughout China, especially in rural, undeveloped country areas. Many poor farmers, unable to survive on their meager incomes, participated widely in selling their blood at these stations. However, in trying to reduce costs and increase revenues, the government health officials neglected health and safety measures. Blood sellers were not tested for health problems, nor was blood tested before mixing. Since then, a myriad of blood products has been manufactured, and the HIV virus has spread widely among both blood sellers and patients who received blood transfusions.

Dr. Gao continues: "There are two things that I think people should be clear about. One is about condoms. In the past few years, condoms have been propagandized in the media as the miracle tool against AIDS. Every year, whenever people talk about AIDS, there’s nothing else besides condom advertisements. On December 1, 2003, a condom manufacturing company called me and asked how many condoms I needed. I replied very simply, ‘I cannot sell out my soul! Money is worthless compared to human life! I have been to a dozen counties, towns, and villages and I’ve seen thousands of AIDS victims. All of them contracted the disease from selling their blood at blood stations!’

"I hate it when the authorities always links prostitution and drug abuse with AIDS. These so-called ‘experts,’ in my view, are simply mouthpieces for the regime government, because when they link AIDS with these behaviors, it gives people the impression that people contract it as a result of their own dissolute behavior and is therefore unrelated to the government. On December 18, 2003, Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi talked to me and said that a professor had told him that most of the AIDS victims had contracted it as a result of their own sexual behavior, and I told him, quite simply, that this professor was lying."{mospagebreak}

When asked about a future remedy, Dr. Gao replied, "There are still many (underground) blood-selling stations throughout the nation, and there are many sellers who still frequent them in order to have an income. At many of these stations, the sellers sell their blood once every two days—and the AIDS infection rate is almost 100 percent."

According to Chinese official figures, the projected number of HIV-positive citizens in the nation will be approximately 10 million by 2010. Dr. Gao believes the number will be much, much more if it is not controlled.

Can Sun and Xiao Tian are correspondents for Chinascope.

AIDS Cases Posted on Dr. Gao Yaojie’s Web Blog
 

[Note: The following is the translation of a few postings on the home page of Gao Yaojie’s blog: posted on 2007-02-11 13:44:29 (http://blog.sina.com.cn/u/4b22ef9201000786)]

The blog begins: Those of us who had blood transfusions in the past now find that we ourselves have contracted the AIDS virus. Some of our spouses are also infected. So are our children. A total of 39 of us are infected; 11 of those infected have died.

1. My name is Mu Zige (pseudonym), female, 37 years old and a native of Lingning County, Henan Province. In June 1995, I had a blood transfusion during a caesarean birth at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In August 2004, at Shangqiu People’s Hospital, I was diagnosed with AIDS. Three people in my family have been infected. My oldest daughter was diagnosed in Shangqiu City; she died the next day. My contact: 0370-7810912, 135-6931-9760.

2. Wang Zhen (Pseudonym), male, 33, a native of Qiaoshi Town, Lingning County. On June 12, 1996, Wang’s wife received a blood transfusion during an operation in the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In February 2004, at the Henan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, she was diagnosed with AIDS. She passed away in September 2004.

3. Ms. Hu, 37, was a native of Baohua Township, Lingning County. In March 1993, during a medical operation at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital, she received a blood transfusion. In August 2002, at the Henan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, she was diagnosed with AIDS. She infected her six-year-old son, who then died of AIDS at the end of August 2002. She also transmitted the disease sexually to her husband. He died in 2003 at age of 56.

4. Zhao Yin (Pseudonym), male, 43, was a native of Louliu Township, Lingning County. In 1995, his wife received a blood transfusion during a medical operation at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In October 2002, at the Henan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, she was diagnosed with AIDS. She died that same month. In September 2003, at the Hunan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, Zhao Yin himself was found to have AIDS.

5. Liu Mei (Pseudonym), female, 37, was a native of Guancheng Township, Lingning County. In January 1999 she received a blood transfusion at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In August 2004, at the County Hospital, she was diagnosed with AIDS. At the same time, her six-year-old son was found to have AIDS.

6. Ms. Yu, 41, is a native of Gangluo Township, Lingning County. In April 1996, she received a blood transfusion at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In October 2004, at the Henan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, she was diagnosed with AIDS. Her husband is also infected with AIDS.

7. Liang Yu (Pseudonym), female, 35, is a native of Yiyang Township, Lingning County. In September 1995, she received a blood transfusion at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In February 2003, at the Henan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, she was diagnosed with AIDS. At the same time, her husband was found to have AIDS.

8. Zhang Xia (Pseudonym), female, 30, is a native of Louliu Township, Lingning County. In February 1999, she received a blood transfusion during a medical operation at the Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In October 2004, she was diagnosed with AIDS at the same hospital.

9. Lu Zhi (Pseudonym), female, 37, is a native of Qiaoshi Township, Lingning County. She received a blood transfusion during a medical operation in 1995 at Lingning County Women and Children’s Hospital. In August 2004, at the Henan Province Epidemic-Prevention Station, she was diagnosed with AIDS. At the same time, her son and daughter were also found to have AIDS. Her daughter died at the end of August 2004. She was only one and a half years old.

10. Zhang Qin (Pseudonym), female, 40, is a native of Louliu Township, Lingning County. In September 1995, she received a blood transfusion during a medical operation at the Lingning County Rehabilitation Hospital. In May 2005, at the Shangqiu City Hospital, she was diagnosed with AIDS.
…… ……

A Tale of Two Cities: Deportation and Rescue

Russians Violate UNHCR Regulations In Deporting Falun Gong Refugees

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, on March 28, 2007, the Russian Federation violated international treaties by repatriating two legitimate refugees—Ma Hui and her 8-year-old daughter, both recognized by the UNHCR—back to China where they might be subjected to torture and persecution for their practice of Falun Gong.

Illegal abduction by Russian officials

According to the Russian radio station "Echo," on March 28, after Ma Hui and her daughter had finished their breakfast, a group of tall men dressed in black broke into the house and quietly abducted them. They were taken directly to the St. Petersburg Pulkovo No. 2 International Airport. After waiting for more than 10 hours that evening, they were repatriated on flight FV-215 by a Russian female police officer and a Chinese official. At 19:50 local time, the plane left Russia for Beijing. When they heard about the incident, several citizens who had lived through Russia’s communist days commented that this incident reminded them of the KGB kidnapping tactics used by the Soviets to deal with dissidents.

According to an eyewitness, six or seven people in black clothing climbed over a wall to enter the house; they cut the telephone and computer wires, and shouted at the mother and the child to follow them. Ms. Ma’s husband, Li, recalled the events of the 28th: "After being notified by a friend at 10:30 a.m., I immediately informed the United Nations Red Cross officials in St. Petersburg and went to the city immigration office, where I was told that all the office personnel had gone to the airport to carry out the repatriation and that Ma Hui and Jing Jing were being detained in the airport waiting for the evening flight to Beijing. However, no matter who we asked, the officials denied knowing anything about Ma and our daughter."

Reaction

"The UNHCR is concerned about their forcible deportation, which is in violation of the Russian Federation’s international obligations and of the Russian Federation Law on Refugees," said a UNHCR press release.

Protests against the Russian deportation were registered worldwide, in Toronto, New York, Washington D.C., and several other cities. "To take a woman and her 8-year-old child and illegally send them back to China, knowing that they will face persecution: It’s unconscionable, it’s disgraceful, and it’s shameful," said actor-writer-director Michael Mahonen, who was representing the Falun Dafa Association of Canada at the Toronto protest. "It’s a real big step backward for Russia in terms of trying to better themselves as a democratic nation."{mospagebreak}

The U.N. Red Cross representative said, "Not only did the Russian government violate its own laws by repatriating Ma Hui, it has also violated the European Human Rights Treaty as well as the International Refugee Repatriation Treaty. Furthermore, it is usual practice to inform a United Nations Red Cross representative and the lawyer, and a signature must be obtained from family members before repatriation." The UNHCR has also requested that the Russian government provide an explanation for this incident.

To date, Ms. Ma’s exact whereabouts remain unknown since arriving in China.

Teenage Student Saved from Abduction at JFK Airport

CCP delegation holds teenage Falun Gong practitioner captive

On the morning of February 10, 14-year-old Youran Zhao, a junior high school student from China, was abducted in Boston by a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) delegation visiting the United States after attempting to flee with her aunt in Boston. According to sources, Ms. Zhao disappeared sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday noon after declaring her intent to seek political asylum. Zhao practices Falun Gong-and in China, Falun Gong practitioners are subject to severe human rights violations. Despite her young age, should she be returned to China she would certainly face persecution.

Ms. Zhao sought to break from the group she was traveling with and enter into the custody of her aunt, Ms. Xiufen Zhang, a resident of New Jersey. Youran Zhao’s parents had authorized Ms. Zhang to serve as her legal guardian and assume custody of her in the United States, where she would be free of the threat of persecution. Zhao’s parents had also granted Ms. Zhang power of attorney over their daughter. However, when Boston police intercepted the travel group on February 11, Ms. Zhao was nowhere to be found. The Chinese group’s leaders refused to reveal information on Zhao’s whereabouts to the police, sparking fears that Chinese authorities were holding her captive and seeking to hastily remove her to China.

Attempted abduction back to China

In an interview with Zhao after her rescue, she told how she was taken from Boston to New York’s JFK Airport on Sunday morning. At 3 p.m., the two delegation leaders accompanied her to the boarding entrance of Air China flight CA982. Her passport and boarding pass were always in the hands of these two delegation leaders who would escort her back to China. As the seat belt buckled around her waist, she completely lost hope of ever reuniting with her relatives and obtaining freedom.{mospagebreak}

The flight was originally scheduled to depart at 3:30 p.m. but was delayed. She and her captors sat onboard waiting for takeoff. A few minutes after boarding, two police officers boarded the cabin and approached Zhao and her escorts, informing them that one of their seats actually belonged to another passenger. Mysteriously, one seat had been double-booked. When the officers discovered that Ms. Zhao did not want to return to China and was being taken against her will, they escorted both her and her captors off the plane and she was freed.

Five or six hours later she finally saw her aunt, who had traveled from Boston. She left the airport with her aunt and was reunited with the rest of her family in the United States.

Concern that her family in China could face persecution

Zhao and her family have been practicing Falun Gong since 1998. After the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999, the family was forbidden to practice outdoors. Although she is now free, she remains very worried for her family’s security back in China, especially for her grandmother. Ms. Zhao is concerned that they might be arrested and brainwashed, like so many other Falun Gong practitioners in China, because of her U.S. visit.

She was told that everything would be all right once she got back to China, and that she could even go abroad again as an international student, but her aunt believes that this is a deceptive statement. Even when her niece had approached classmates for help, no one would support her.

In an unfamiliar environment, students naturally place faith in their teachers, looking to them for guidance and instruction. Instead of protecting young Zhao, however, this Chinese delegation kept her from eating for several hours and even kidnapped her to gain favor with the CCP.

According to Mr. Yonglin Chen, a former Chinese Embassy official who defected in 2005, Chinese authorities have previously kidnapped foreign nationals and taken them back to China to be dealt with. Communist authorities consider defections and asylum-seekers a blow to the Party’s esteem.

Can Sun is a correspondent for Chinascope.

From the Editor

A "nail house" in Chongqing Municipality has grabbed the headlines and become a hot topic in online forums. A poignant picture captures how a house stands alone in the middle of a huge property redevelopment area, where everything around it has been knocked down. For more than two years, the owners have refused to relocate and have resisted all forms of pressure applied by land planners and local officials to demolish the house.

"Nail house" is a Chinese slang term for describing precisely that situation—as if the house is nailed to the ground and difficult to move. When the National People’s Congress enacted the "Property Law" in its 2007 annual conference in March, it pushed the "nail house" issue even further into the spotlight. All of a sudden, the Chongqing Nail House became a symbolic test for the validity of the newly passed Property Law.

The Property Law is designed to provide legal protection for individual property ownership, but it has been given mixed reviews by the public. Many are skeptical of its intent to protect the ordinary individual. Instead, they see it as protection for the privileged who acquired their property through shady channels. Protecting a "nail house" as an individual is indeed a daunting task. In most cases, refusing a relocation order often incurs dire consequences such as attacks by thugs hired by the developers and local authorities or even jail terms. In the end, the house is often simply bulldozed without permission. In recent years, violence related to the demolition of property and land development has been rampant, and suicide and other tragedies have arisen from angry homeowners’ reactions to seeing the culmination of their life savings destroyed. A survey of more than 1,000 petitioners who went to Beijing showed that 10 percent of them were related to the loss of property due to forced relocation, reflecting the magnitude of the problem and the need for the proper protection of private property.

Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that the Chongqing Nail House is gaining such public support and media attention, but it is not indicative of the broader situation. In a nation where even the most basic constitutional rights are not guaranteed, one can hardly expect a property law to have a tangible impact overnight, for there are too many interests-both government and private—involved in the land development business. In all likelihood, we will continue to find many more victims of relocation—related violence than the unlikely heroes of Chongqing, unless all homeowners stand together or the authorities start enforcing the law in earnest.

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