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China's Parliament Approves Constitution Changes Towards Capitalist Society

China's parliament ended its annual session Sunday with nearly 3,000 delegates approving changes to the country's constitution. The changes, which include the protection of private property rights, are seen as yet another push by China to build a more capitalist society.

Delegates to the National People's Congress adopted the clause Sunday, marking the first time that China's Constitution has guaranteed private property protections since the Communists took power in 1949.

After more than two decades of gradual economic reforms, the inclusion of the clause was seen as yet another step in China's transition from the traditional socialist model which China's Communist leaders still espouse, at least in theory.

Also formally adopted Sunday was so-called Three Represents theory put forth by former President Jiang Zemin. The theory recognizes private business people as one of the main productive forces of Chinese society.

Dominating the 10-day legislative session were concerns over the widening gap between rich and poor as China's economy continues to grow at a frantic pace.

Speaking to reporters at the close of the session, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said his government must undertake measures to address problems related to uneven growth.

"China's economy is at a critical juncture," he said. "On the one hand, the economy has been growing very rapidly but on the other hand, deep seated problems and imbalances in the course of many years have not been fundamentally resolved."

Mr. Wen also repeated his government's opposition to an upcoming referendum vote in Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. Beijing views the referendum as a move by Taiwanese authorities toward formal independence, and has threatened to use force against the self-governed island if it declares itself a sovereign nation. The Chinese Prime Minister accused the Taiwanese leadership of threatening stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Amendments to China's constitution mentioned human rights for the first time, but there was no language on protecting freedom of expression or association.

Adoption of the legislation Sunday was seen as little more than a formality. The contents of the laws were drafted and reviewed by the central committee of the Communist Party behind closed doors several months ago.