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China Announces New Measures to Promote Openness


China's communist leaders have unveiled what they say are measures to promote greater transparency, as the country prepares to host the 2008 Olympic games. VOA Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing.

China hopes to boost its international image in the months leading up to the Olympic games, and wants to shed the negative image of a secretive communist regime.

That campaign accelerated when the State Council - China's cabinet - announced new regulations the government describes as a "milestone" in granting people the right to information.

The vice minister of the cabinet's legislative affairs office, Zhang Qiong, told reporters the rules will give people the right to access information on things like government finances, economic statistics, and other data.

"(It) will be beneficial to ensure that citizens or organizations can - according to law - obtain government and information, and achieve the public's right to know about the government's work," said Zhang.

But officials make it clear the law does not mean the communist government is ready to grant its people full freedom of information.

The regulations say information available to the public should not harm state security, economic security or social stability.

Analysts say that means little is likely to change in a country that has such a broad definition of the term "state secrets." China has long considered things like test scores, data on epidemics, and the number of war dead and wounded since the founding of the People's Republic of China as sensitive information, and has thrown people in prison for disseminating it.

International media groups rank China as the world's leading jailer of journalists, with 31 in prison - three-quarters of them accused of engaging in what authorities regard as anti-state activities.

Beijing in January relaxed controls on foreign journalists, saying they no longer need government permission to interview people throughout much of the country.

But restrictions remain, with officials often declining interviews or preventing access, saying they fear reprisals from their superiors for speaking to the foreign media.

The regulations take effect in May 2008, three months before the start of the Beijing Olympics.