By Eva Cheng
Beijing secured legislative backing to tighten its repressive rule at the latest parliamentary session of the National People's Congress held in the capital between March 1-14.
This first major national gathering after the death of Deng Xiaoping last month revealed Beijing's deepening troubles as it tries to maintain stable rule while pushing ahead with its pro-capitalist reform. The Congress has also approved new measures that foster further social inequality.
Legislators approved a vast expansion of the Criminal Law, empowering the government to jail people for long periods for violating "state security". Only the ruling bureaucracy has the power to define what actions violate state security.
Anyone in possession of state secrets can now be jailed for seven years if the information was obtained through "theft, spying or purchases". Those who refuse to reveal their source can be imprisoned for an additional three years.
Those who "collude" with foreign countries and threaten China's "sovereignty, territorial integrity and security", or who organise, plan and carry out activities that harm "national unity" can be jailed for at least 10 years. People who spread rumours and defamatory remarks against the political system in China can be imprisoned for up to five years.
Also punishable are those who provide financial support to organisations in China which promote activities that jeopardise national security; who interfere with or obstruct military personnel from carrying out their duties; and who destroy military equipment, instigate riots and disturb military facilities.
The Congress pays lip service to defending a socialist system in China, while continuing to sanction measures that undermine such a social order. While reporting to the Congress that more urban workers are being laid off — due to firms shutting down or reducing production — Minister of the State Planning Commission Chen Jinhua said the unemployed should give up the traditional mentality [of expecting the state to provide job security] and be more flexible in finding jobs.
While Premier Li Peng affirmed that Beijing had no plans to privatise key state firms, he revealed no measures that might stem the continuing erosion of the planned sector by private business, which for the first time in 1994 overtook the state sector in its share of industrial output.
Widespread extortion by local and regional officials remains a problem, according to Congress spokesman Zhou Jue, but the Congress decided on nothing that might address the problem, simply specifying a maximum level allowable for local government levies and reaffirming the need to strengthen the education of the officials on the spirit to serve the people.
Finance Minister Liu Zhongli announced a surprisingly high budget deficit projection of 57 billion yuan for 1997. This is down from last year's 61 billion yuan, but nowhere near enough progress towards the budget deficit target of zero by the year 2000.
Liu conceded that the deficit would have been smaller but for many expenditures that had to be increased "due to political and economic considerations". About 2.5 billion yuan is designated to help the poor and 80.57 billion yuan — 12% more than last year — for the army .
According to Liu, the loss of revenue due to "tax evasion, fraud, arbitrary reduction and exemption of taxes and refusal to pay tax" continues to be significant.
China plans to issue a record 248.6 billion yuan of bonds — at home and overseas — in 1997, partly to cover the deficit. Of this, 195.9 billion yuan is to service existing debt which has grown to 426.5 billion yuan, or 6.3% of China's 1996 gross domestic product.