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China Communist Party Ends Meeting with Plans to Reform Constitution, Economy - 2003-10-14

Leaders of China's communist party have wrapped up an annual gathering with plans to reform the country's constitution and adopt further market reforms.

The gathering, known officially as the Third Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was held behind closed doors over the course of four days.

Many Chinese did not appear to pay much attention to the proceedings, since the meeting got no day-to-day coverage by the state media and foreign journalists were not allowed to attend.

Sources say the discussions focused on narrowing the growing gap between the rich who have benefited from China's explosive economic growth, and the millions farmers and others who continue to live in desperate poverty.

Hours after the conclusion of the session, the official Xinhua news agency carried a short statement saying party leaders had adopted two documents.

It said one is aimed at improving what Chinese leaders refer to as China's socialist market economic system. The report said the other is a proposal to revise China's constitution. No details were given.

Party officials beforehand said the reforms would include offering protection to entrepreneurs and recognizing the private sector as a main driving force behind the economy. Other reforms expected were overhauls to state-owned enterprises, and the country's ailing banking system.

Analysts said that although the meeting appeared to produce no dramatic changes, the reforms adopted would push China further away from socialism and more toward a full-fledged market economy.

The party gathering was the first since President Hu Jintao took office, following the retirement of Jiang Zemin in March. At the time, Mr. Hu promised to address the country's mounting social problems of poverty and unemployment. Analysts like David Zweig of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology say the plenum provided the new leadership an opportunity to present its approach.

"In the past, Jiang Zemin put much more emphasis on letting a lot of people get rich, and trying to get the economy going, really much more concerned about growth," explained Mr. Zweig. "Here, this group is trying to balance both growth in the economy, but also the enormous inequalities that have emerged in China, and the lack of jobs. The economy is very slow in creating new jobs."

Before the meeting, President Hu and other leaders said they sought to make the party more transparent and responsive to people.

Analysts interpreted the statements as an indication that the Communist Party that has ruled for more than half a century is striving to maintain relevance at a time when China is looking less like a socialist state and more like a full-fledged free-market economy.