China is to draft its first “national action plan” on human rights which will propose ways to “expand democracy and strengthen the rule of law”, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.
The plan, to be drafted by a panel including government officials and legal and human rights experts, would be a blueprint for future reform, the report said.
“The panel will carefully plan the human rights development in detail and put forward practical policies and measures,” Wang Chen, minister in charge of the State Council Information Office, told Xinhua.
The announcement was greeted with some scepticism by human rights groups, which pointed to the lack of detail in the plan and similar vague promises in the past.
However, they acknowledged that such a forum could embolden supporters of political reform within the Communist party. “My instinct is to say that this is empty talk, but it could also give reformers a voice by allowing them to talk more openly about some of these issues,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, at the Hong Kong office of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights group.
Some observers said the announcement could be a tactical move to pre-empt criticism of China’s human rights record over the next year. In February, China is scheduled to face a review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Moreover, next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which is also likely to prompt renewed debate about political reform in China.
The announcement follows a year in which liberals in the party have seen their hopes of a broader debate about political reform dashed. In February, researchers at the Communist party’s top think-tank launched a book calling for far-reaching democratic reforms to curtail corruption and limit censorship. However, the reform blueprint made little headway after attention was dominated first by disturbances in Tibet, then by the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics.
Meanwhile, a Chinese official said that new licences for rural land use would have no time limit, part of a series of recent announcements aimed at facilitating the transfer of land-use rights. Previously licences were for 30 years.
“In the future, the licences won’t say ‘30 years’, they will just say ‘long term’. They will not set any period,” Huang Yanxin, deputy director of the agriculture ministry’s department of sectoral policy and law, told reporters. The Financial Times Limited