This week China announced a reform package that promises to eliminate the country's system of labour camps and relax its "one child policy." Anyone concerned with human rights would have to consider these changes to be good news (though I hope, for Justin Trudeau's sake, that they won't impede China's ability to go green fast and invest in solar). However, it's still wise to remember how far from a free country China remains. The "easing" of the one-child policy amounts to allowing a couple to have two children if one of the parents is him- or herself an only child. It's a limited exception to an authoritarian and intrusive rule. The government is still coercively dictating family size and reproductive choices -- and punishing those who don't comply. Reports of forced abortions and sterilization continue.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government's discussion of its new reforms included amped up talk about the threats posed by the Internet and social media, suggesting that further crackdowns and censorship of online speech could be in the works. It also remains to be seen whether China eliminating labour "re-education" camps will mean eliminating forced labour, and detention without trial, altogether. Or if it will simply be a case of shifting these practices to similarly objectionable systems with new or different names.
And of course, the government's pledge to allow more competition is a limited one: more competition with state-owned industries. The state itself? That's still a monopoly situation with only the Communist Party having the right to form a government. Just a few things to keep in mind before getting too giddy about China's latest amendments.
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