China Ends Forced Labor Camps, Relaxes One Child Policy

Following the first major meeting of leader Xi Jinping, China is ending "re-education" forced labor camps, as well as relaxing its "one child" policy.

Earlier this week, the Communist Party of China held its Third Plenary Session for the 18th National Congress, referred to as the Third Plenum.  Due to precedent dating back to Deng Xiaoping, the Third Plenum is used as a platform for the leader to advance reforms for the coming decade, and consolidate power.  In the case of Xi Jiping, the new leader of the People's Republic of China, he did not make any immediate announcements regarding reforms.  But in a subsequent 22,000 word-document, Xi revealed several drastic social reforms.  In particular, he seeks to end the use of forced labor "re-education" camps, and is relaxing the "One Child" policy, among other plans.

In the case of "re-education," the forced labor prison camps have been existence for nearly as long as the Communist Party has controlled China.  Thousands of prison camps dot the landscape in the country.  Re-education through labor camps, a variation of these prison camps, target criminals with minor offenses, and political and religious dissidents.  Xi's first major move, as part of a reform for the entire forced labor prison system, would be to abolish the "re-education" camps outright.  The reasons for this abolishment is a slight platitude to China's human rights critics, with the document saying it is part of "efforts to improve human rights and judicial practices."

The One Child Policy has been modified as well.  In an attempt to deal with overpopulation, the CPC instigated a policy of families only having one child.  Exceptions were made, such as for non-Han ethnic groups and rural villagers, but the policy covered about 80 to 90% of China's population.  Now, to address the problem of treating the elderly who were born prior to the One Child Policy, as well as the massive imbalance of men over women, the CPC is allowing couples where only one of the partners lacks siblings would be okay to have more than one child.

In addition to these social reforms, several economic reforms are making waves, as well.  The document from the Third Plenum stated it seeks to open up the country to more foreign investment, and make China's currency, the yuan renminbi, freely convertible, putting it on a course to become a leading currency in the world.  Farmer property rights, a major point of contention in much of rural China, would be expanded as well.

Xi's new policy reforms hint at what he envisions as part of his major policy platform, known as the "Chinese Dream."  That this will lead to more real and democratic liberalization remains unlikely, due to the nature of the CPC.  But still, it's an improvement.

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