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China Unveils Landmark Private Property Law 

China's parliament has introduced a landmark bill to protect private property, in what analysts describe as a major move away from communism toward a market economy. The measure was introduced as Chinese leaders seek to narrow the gap between rich and poor, a key cause of social unrest. VOA's Leta Hong Fincher has more.

A member of the Chinese Communist Party's powerful Politburo, Vice Chairman Wang Zhaoguo, unveiled the proposed property law at Thursday's session of the National People's Congress. "Enactment of the property law will serve to define and protect private ownership, condominium rights, and land contract rights."

Party hardliners have long opposed this property law, which protects private wealth and overturns the traditional communist theory that private ownership is bad.

If the measure is passed -- as expected -- China scholar Huang Jing of the Brookings Institution research group in Washington says it will mark a "point of no return" for China's transition toward a market economy. "One of the goals of the Communist revolution was to wipe out private ownership. After 1949 [Chinese Communist revolution] -- almost 60 years later -- this is the first time that it's going to return to where it started, that is, Chinese people are entitled -- guaranteed -- to own property, which of course turns Marxism upside down."

Poorly-defined property rights have allowed government officials to seize businesses, houses and farmland indiscriminately. This has provoked anger among ordinary Chinese.

One Chinese citizen shared his concerns "We're concerned about the high cost of medical care and housing. There is too big a gap between these expenses and most people's income."

The gap between rich and poor in China is a key cause of social instability, according to Evan Medeiros, a China scholar at the RAND Corporation research group in Washington. He says protests by angry Chinese farmers and workers are soaring. "Social unrest itself is a deep problem for the Communist Party, in which there are anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 protests a year in China, that number presumably growing every year."

In addition to the property law, Chinese leaders have announced plans to fight environmental degradation, boost rural development, and slow urban growth.

Medeiros adds, "They have sought to reduce the burdens on some of the rural farmers in China; they have sought to better distribute the wealth from the cities, traditionally along the coastal areas to the inland provinces in China; and they have also sought to create a variety of social spending programs to meet some of the social needs of people, for example, improving the quality of health care that's provided, improving the quality of education that's provided as well."

The property law and other economic reform policies are expected to be approved when China's parliament session ends on March 16.