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Li Peng on Basic-level Democracy, Political Parties, etc.

Peter Seidlitz of Handelsbatt interviews Li Peng, 2 December 1998

On Democracy at Grassroots Level in China

China's top legislator Li Peng said that the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) has no structural reform plans. China has its unique conditions and democracy should be judged by substance and content, not by form, Li said. Li, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, made the remarks in a recent interview with Peter Seidlitz of Handelsbatt, a Germany-based newspaper. Speaking of the elections of villagers? self-management organizations in China, Li said that China officially promulgated the Organic Law on Village Committees which contains many new provisions on election procedures. We believe that only with an institutionalized structure, can we ensure justice and democracy of elections, he noted. The election of village committees is based on universal vote and people can freely nominate their own candidates, who can only get elected with over half of the votes, he said. The village committee will make administration of village affairs open, in labor matters, in the use of land for housing and family planning, Li noted. He went on to say that there is a procedure for removal of members of the village committee, whereby 20 percent of the villagers can request their removal, but there will have to be support from over half of the villagers. However, there is a strict procedure to follow and the recall ha to be approved by more than half of the villagers. Democracy starts with the grassroots in China because for an ordinary villager, the person who is of direct concern to him is not the provincial governor or the county magistrate or even the head of the township, but the chairman of the village committee, Li said. We are also trying to improve the residents? committees in cities, which roughly correspond to your communities and are self-management organizations for city dwellers, Li said. We are trying to improve the workers? congress system in factories, the NPC chairman added. He stressed that to govern the country according to law represents an important fundamental strategy for administration. The people's will and the will of the Communist Party of China (CPC) should be written into law through legal procedures for all the organizations in the country, including the CPC itself, to observe, Li said. In this way, we can avoid repeating the past mistakes, he noted. Asked how China handles the abuse of power, Li said that cases involving abuse of power will be dealt with according to law. Everybody is equal before the law, as is clearly provided for in principles of the Constitution. And there is no exception given to anybody. Everyone, leaders naturally included, shall abide by the law, Li emphasized.

On the Role of Press

In response to a question about whether China is preparing a press law, Li said, We will formulate a law that will conform with China's national conditions.? In the two decades of reforms and opening up, Li said, great changes have taken place in the press and in public opinion in China and there is a considerable degree of openness and freedom. But, we will still tell members of the press that they should not report anything that does not reflect reality or that distort facts, he said. To do so would be against professional ethics of the media and would mislead the public, he said. Freedom of press should be followed, but individual freedom should not hinder the freedom of others. Press freedom should be useful for national development and social stability, he said, and mentioned the news program Focus on CCTV (China Central TV), which exposes the flaws and mistakes of government offices at various levels. He added that this kind of exposure has never been seen before. Li said that it is fair to say that there has been a great deal of progress in the international media'soverage of China and that it is much more objective than before, but that there are still reports that don't conform to the facts. We don't think that only reports praising China are good and reports with some criticism are not necessarily bad for our work, he emphasized, explaining that different people may have different perspectives and different reports on the same event.

On Mao Zedong's Role

Li Peng said that Mao Zedong Thought is a valuable ideological asset of the Communist Party of China and that China is still guided by it. Mao made indelible contributions to the founding of the People's Republic of China and the development of the socialist cause, Li said in a recent interview with Peter Seidlitz, Beijing correspondent of Germany's Handelsbatt. Seidlitz said that he had watched the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Liu Shaoqi on television and that he was surprised that the blame for Liu's death had been put on the Gang of Four and a former defense minister, and asked whether Mao Zedong's role could be part of the assessment of the history of that time. Li said that the charges against Comrade Liu Shaoqi were trumped up and the result of frame-up by Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and others, and that this had been clearly stated by the 6th Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee. Comrade Mao Zedong has a major responsibility for the serious mistakes of the Cultural Revolution, which had an impact on the whole country, Li said, but, taking his life as a whole, his contributions to China's revolution far exceeded his errors, and his contribution is the most important.

On China's Legislative Priority

Priority in China's legislative work is given to improving laws on the socialist market economy and with economic globalization, no one can live in isolation from others and the Asian financial crisis has left many questions about this, said Li Peng, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC). Because countries differ in levels of strength and development, developing countries should learn to protect themselves in the financial sector, otherwise they will suffer from economic control by rich countries, he said. Speaking with Peter Seidlitz, Beijing correspondent of Germany's Handelsblatt, Li said that the NPC is now discussing a draft of the Contract Law that has been discussed twice by the Standing Committee. What is needed is a comprehensive Contract Law for the market economy to protect foreign investment in China and trade with China. The full text of the draft has appeared in newspapers to solicit people's views because it is fundamental to civil and commercial law, he said. He said that a draft of the Securities Law has been examined by the Standing Committee four times, with the debate mainly concentrating on futures. There should be futures trading in securities in accordance with international practice, but some people believe that the stocks market in China are under-developed for futures, which are too speculative. After seriously studying the lessons from the Asian financial crisis and the global financial turmoil, the Standing Committee achieved a relative meeting of the mind, that is China does not have the conditions for practicing futures trading in securities, Li said. Li also introduced China's general legislative work. According to him, China has a five-year legislative plan and also an annual legislative program. Naturally, he said, this does not mean that the entire plan or program will be fulfilled on schedule, because that depends on the actual situation that the completion of a law requires the approval of the majority of the NPC deputies of Standing Committee members, which takes time. In line with the law, draft laws may be put forward by the government, the people's courts and procuratorates in the case of judicial laws, and the special committees of the NPC. Thirty signatures of deputies are enough for the tabling of a legislative motion, but generally, these deputies are not able to draw up a complete draft law. Nonetheless, they can put forth their basic requirements of the draft law. China has altogether nearly 3,000 deputies in the NPC, and every year a plenary session is held. During its recess, the 155 member Standing Committee hold sessions lasting seven to 10 days every two months. The NPC also has nine Special Committees with altogether 212 members, who work full time to assist the NPC and its Standing Committee in their legislation and supervision.

On Legislature

Li said that the NPC and its Standing Committee have enacted over 300 laws and related decisions on the basis of the Constitution since the reforms and opening-up began, and the 8th NPC achieved a great deal in revising the Criminal Law. China had a planned economy in the past, he said, and is now in the process of building a socialist market economy, so it needs laws to regulate market behavior. The current NPC has promulgated a number of important laws like the Higher Education Law and a revision of the Land Management Law. He said that the revision was necessary because China suffers from insufficient land resources and recent construction work has taken up large amounts of farmland, which is a dangerous thing. So, the revised law puts greater restrictions on land use to protect arable land. Every province should essentially strive to restore farmland that has been used for other purposes, and the law provides for a rigorous compensation system for farmers. The requisition of land for farmland requires compensation of as much as 30 times the output value of that particular parcel of land in that particular year, he said. The 9th NPC proposed a preliminary socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics and the Standing Committee is now doing the corresponding planning and guidelines for legislative work, he said.

On Political Parties in China

The chaotic situation of the Cultural Revolution, where thousands of political organizations could appear overnight, should not be repeated, according to Li Peng, chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC. In response to a question about whether it is legal or not to set up political parties, Li noted that people should act in accordance with the Constitution. The Communist Party of China is the leading force of China's revolution and construction, and the People's Congress system is the fundamental political system of China, he said, and there are provisions on ensuring that people enjoy an extensive amount of democracy under this system. There are eight non-Communist parties in China, which grew out of the country?s protracted revolutionary struggle for national independence and liberation, and they still play an important role in the political and social life of China, he said. They are not opposition parties, but are parties that participate in managing state affairs and represent different social groups, Li explained. And they do not necessarily share the same view as the CPC. In addition to the NPC, there is a CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation system, under which the CPC or the Chinese Government consult with these parties to solicit their views, and this system suits China?s national conditions and the people support the CPC leadership, he said.

On Political Disturbance in 1989

On the conclusion on the political disturbance in 1989, Li said that the Party and the Government have already drawn the correct conclusion on the political disturbance of 1989 and that will not be changed in any way. This is the consensus of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Jiang Zemin at the core, Li added. Seidlitz said that he thought that China's answer on the June 4th disturbance was that the Party has already reached this conclusion but that another Chinese leader had said to him in an interview that history will decide. Yes, history will decide and history has already decided, was Li's response. Our views are the same, he said, explaining that in answers to questions, specific wordings or way of expressions may be different, but the spirit is the same and that leaves no room for fault-finding.

On Organizing Political Opposition

Li said, China promotes democracy and the rule of law but its road is not patterned after the Western approach with a separation of powers, a multi-party system, and privatization. In response to a question about how the Chinese government deals with people who want to form an NGO, Li said that the government will look at the nature of any such organization. If its purpose runs contrary to the Constitution or the basic policies of China, or against the socialist market economy, national unity, and independence, or against social stability, and if it is designed to negate the leadership of the Communist Party, then it will not be allowed to exist, Li said. But if it is a social group engaging in various activities beneficial to society, then it will be allowed, as long as it is registered, he added. China has its own conditions and is a developing country with a large population. Adopting the Western system indiscriminately and completely in developing countries will not work and imposing it in developing countries has never produced good results, he said. I believe it should be up to the people of various countries to make their own decision about the road to development, and the social system that they would like to adopt in their own countries, and it should not be judged by Western standards, he emphasized. According to Li, some Russian friends have praised China and some have even said that Russia should follow in China's footsteps. But, he said because countries are different, the experiences and practices of China may not apply to other countries, and that they should adopt the system that is suited to their own conditions. In China, economic development has to be conditioned on political stability and on the correct handling of the relationship between reforms, development and stability, Li said.

On NPC Debates

China's NPC will not use the Westminster formula, whereby members of parliament are noisy and even rude to each other during debates, said Li Peng. Although many may consider that system interesting, the Chinese people may not be able to accept it, he said. Maybe this is where Eastern and the Western cultural traditions differ, Li said. Li said he once had the opportunity to observe a parliamentary session in another country. The opposition party and the ruling party sat opposite each other. When one side was speaking, people on the other side were boisterous and chaotic, stamping their feet or clapping their hands, so the Speaker was crying order, order while striking the gavel, he recalled. In fact, he added, debates can be very heated in the NPC, its Standing Committee and Special Committee sessions, and divergent views are expressed. Exactly because of this that repeated discussions and deliberations are needed, he said. That is why drafts of laws normally have to go through three reviews before they are finally passed and sometimes this takes several years.