Since I made my decision to study abroad in Thailand for a semester, in summer 2013, I took a closer look to Asian countries such as Thailand of course as well as China, Japan, South and North Korea. Especially China seems to attract me in a particular way as back in the Netherlands some of my colleagues are from China. Through them I got a greater overview about the political and economic system in China. In some parts I was surprised how they handle things as freedom of expression over there. In Germany these fundamental rights are primary goods of every citizen but in China it is not the case. Thereby I was really astonished when the Chinese government announced new reforms in November 2013.
Chinas communist government surprisingly came up with new economic reforms which also included themes such as One-child policy, abolishment of labour camps and changes in death penalty. It seems that China is moving towards a more democratic form and even human right activists will have a closer look at China.
One-child policy will be relaxed in China in order to pay the pensions for retired persons. Chinese who are currently 65+ are 8.5 % of the population and will rise to 23.9 % until 2050, according to United Nations data. Since the elderly people will almost triple China needs more money to pay for pensions. Even the Chinese government noticed that for an increasing part of elderly people, a state also needs a boost in birth-rate. How to fix such a future and serious conflict? Of course China just needs to relax the One-child policy. Therefore couples are allowed to have two children if one parent is an only child.
The One-child policy got introduced in 1979. From that time on couples who are living in a city are allowed to have only one child. On the country side it was just allowed to have a second child, if the first child is a female. The reason for that policy was to stem the population growth which reduced approximately the population by 300 million. Additionally, you must critically view this policy, due to some reports about recent abortions and bondage sterilizations. Moreover this policy led also to an imbalance between man and woman whereby China has a huge problem with getting couples together, which is the basis for children. But with relaxing the One-child policy, the government will solve that problem. There is only one question left, if couples, if there are any couples, are willing to get children nowadays at all? 1; 2
No dead line for abolishment of labour camps. In year 1957 a system was applied by the government, whereby defendants could be convicted to very long imprisonment in labour camps without any jurisdiction. They call it re-education through labour. The duration of imprisonment without jurisdiction can be up to three years with the option of one year of extension. Nowadays most of the prisoners are burglars, prostitutes, rioters and activists such as human rights activists. One of the most famous inmates of a labour camp is Liu Xiaobo, awarded with the 2010 Nobel Prize Peace.
This system was launched under the pretext to react quicker on little or smaller issues. According to a report of United Nations in 2009, 190,000 Chinese were affected by such an ‘illegal’ decision-making. The conditions in those labour camps should be different. Labour camps should make good businesses and profit. Officially convicts are working just 6 hours in factories or in the agricultural field. But even official Chinese sources report about the condition in those labour camps and published numbers where inmates have to work 10 hours a day 7 days a week. One case provided a great stir last year where a mother got punished, just because she addresses to authorities that her daughter was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. So carrying about your child seems to be prohibited in China. But for a final abolishment of labour camps is, of course, no dead line announced. 3
Changes for death penalty or even cancellation of death penalty? Another tiny but quiet important part of the reforms is the topic about death penalty. In 2012 about 3,000 people were executed, after US-Human Rights Organisation. In 2002 the number of executions was about 12,000. Since then the number of executions decreased continuously.
The communist party decided to reduce the amount of offenses which are punished by death penalty, ‘step by step’. However, it is not clear how many offenses will be affected by changes for death penalty, since the government describes their plan with a ‘step by step’ process. It seems that they have not established a final goal for the reduction or even cancellation, because it is easier to hide behind the surprising statement. 4
Could these 3 different examples of reforms be seen as a step towards democracy or is it more a kind of polishing Chinese facade? Due to the fact that most of the reforms which I have mentioned have no deadlines, you just can expect that they will change it but you cannot be sure. All these statements seem pretty vague but perhaps they have to be vague in the beginning, since these are drastic reforms for the People’s Republic. The time will tell if China takes the reforms serious and is willing to change. In my opinion China goes the right way towards democracy but even when they implement all of these new reforms, China cannot be called as democracy.