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Magna Charter

December 10th, 2008 by Bill Brown · 1 Comment · Foreign Affairs

Over 300 Chinese intellectuals have signed what’s called Charter 08, a manifesto calling for Western-style democracy to be instituted in China. Two of its authors have already been arrested. The document, as you might expect, is more Universal Declaration of Human Rights than Declaration of Independence but it’s still a wonderful start and contains a number of surprising gems:

1. A New Constitution. We should recast our present constitution, rescinding its provisions that contradict the principle that sovereignty resides with the people and turning it into a document that genuinely guarantees human rights, authorizes the exercise of public power, and serves as the legal underpinning of China’s democratization. The constitution must be the highest law in the land, beyond violation by any individual, group, or political party.

14. Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

As well as some not-so-surprising turds:

16. Social Security. We should establish a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, health care, retirement security, and employment.

17. Protection of the Environment. We need to protect the natural environment and to promote development in a way that is sustainable and responsible to our descendents and to the rest of humanity. This means insisting that the state and its officials at all levels not only do what they must do to achieve these goals, but also accept the supervision and participation of non-governmental organizations.

It’s a courageous step, far better in its understanding of the proper role of government than I had thought. Will it catch hold as a rallying point? Can the rule of law ever come to China? At least we now know where to keep our attention focused.

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