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3/22/04 - CHINA AMENDMENTS - 2004-03-19

China has approved constitutional amendments on private property and human rights. One of the Chinese amendments says, “Legally obtained private property of the citizens shall not be violated.” The other says, “The state respects and protects human rights.”

Adam Ereli is U.S. State Department deputy spokesman. “Protection of private property and human rights,” he says, is “the cornerstone of a modern open economy and a productive and creative society governed by the rule of law.” But Mr. Ereli points out that China’s implementation of these provisions “will be key”:

“Having laws on the books is one thing but taking action to enforce them in a consistent way is another thing. And we certainly hope that the follow-through on these constitutional amendments will be robust.”

The Chinese action comes a few weeks after the release of the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report. In the past year, says the report, there has been “backsliding” on human rights in China. The government arrested democracy activists, people using the Internet to advocate reforms, H-I-V/AIDS activists, protesting workers, lawyers defending dissidents, and others seeking to take advantage of the space created by earlier reforms.

These new prisoners join thousands of Chinese already in jail for political or religious reasons. They include many still imprisoned from the time of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989. With the fifteenth anniversary of the brutal Tiananmen crackdown coming in June, many people continue to urge the Chinese government to stop calling the peaceful student demonstrations a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.”

China’s leaders have discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. Sooner or later, one hopes, they will also discover -- along with the students of Tiananmen Square -- that freedom is indivisible, that political, social, and religious freedom are essential to national greatness and national dignity.