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Former top Chinese officials call for better protection of human rights and justice for all

by Jun Mai   

Former top Chinese finance officials have called for better enforcement of the law and protection of human rights in China at a top forum to mark the 40th anniversary of the country’s market reforms.

Addressing the elite Chinese Economists 50 Forum on Sunday, Yang Weimin, who stepped down earlier this year from the secretariat of the Communist Party’s top economic policy panel, said Chinese people now demanded better protection of human rights, rather than just pursuit of economic development.

“We need to build and improve the institutions that protect the people’s democratic rights, protect human rights, are based on law, and have a fair judiciary,” said Yang, a former deputy director of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs.

“What people want for a good life is more about this, rather than pure economic issues.” The forum is a club of serving and former financial officials, as well as top policy advisers and economists, and mainly discusses economic matters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, Vice-Premier Liu He, briefly attended – but did not address – the weekend gathering of the club, which he helped co-found when he was a government adviser.

China is poised to mark the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up policy in December amid heated debate over the progress of market reform.

Critics have said the present administration, in power since 2012, has stalled necessary overhauls of state-owned enterprises, and even pushed back on the mild gains in political liberalisation made over the past four decades.

Yang’s call for better legal protections was echoed by Wu Xiaoling, a former vice-governor of the People’s Bank of China. Wu said a sound justice system was needed more than ever to help settle disputes as China moved into the next stage of reforms. That system would in turn lead to sustainable social stability, he said.

“Only when we respect a lawyer’s right to mount a defence, a judge’s right to make an independent ruling, and the public and mass media’s right to monitor [the government], will we be able to continue to improve our laws and regulations,” Wu said.

“Inroads have been made in judicial reforms in recent years, but it remains far from the party’s goal that people should be able to see justice and fairness in every judgment.”

Wu’s remarks contrast with Beijing’s tightening grip on lawyers in recent years, including a government crackdown on rights lawyers and legal activists, as well as an expanded party presence in law firms.

Sunday’s session, held in Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, marked the 20th anniversary of the club’s founding and was also attended by central bank governor Yi Gang, Vice-Minister of Finance Liao Min and former Finance Minister Lou Jiwei. Courtesy South China Morning Post

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