- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

BEIJING — China took symbolic steps toward a more capitalist society yesterday, amending its constitution to protect private property rights and inviting entrepreneurs to join the Communist Party.

The figurehead legislature, approving directives ordered up by the party, also added the first-ever mention of human rights to China’s constitution. But the language said nothing about protecting free political expression, a key issue for government critics.

The moves came on the 10th and final day of the annual meeting of the 2,904-member parliament, the National People’s Congress, in the Great Hall of the People on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“These changes to the constitution are of great significance to the development of China,” said Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. China’s No. 2 leader and legislative chief, Wu Bangguo, said the constitutional change “lays down the ground rules for our struggle.”

The vote to adopt the slate of constitutional amendments was 2,863 in favor, 10 against and the rest either abstaining or absent.

“The high number of yes votes shows that the changes reflect the will of the Chinese people,” Mr. Wen said.

The constitutional protection of private property was the first since the communists took power in 1949. It was largely symbolic: China already has laws on private property, but with millions of people starting businesses and buying homes and stocks, entrepreneurs have lobbied for constitutional guarantees.

Entrepreneurs are a pivotal part of the Communist Party’s plans to open China’s economy and attract foreign investment — both to its booming eastern seaboard and to the still-impoverished countryside.

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