China 'reform panel' holds first meeting
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the 12th National People's Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 15, 2013 - by Wang Zhao
President Xi Jinping, the ruling party's general secretary who was announced as the group's head in November, presided over the meeting, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Three other members of China's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) -- Premier Li Keqiang, propaganda chief Liu Yunshan and Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli -- have been appointed deputy group leaders, Xinhua said.
The three men rank second, fifth and seventh on the PSC.
The group's establishment was announced after the Third Plenum in November, a party meeting that has historically served as a venue for China's rulers to set policy for their five-year terms.
Several reform measures were announced during the November gathering, including the abolition of China's vast network of labour camps and a loosening of the controversial one-child policy, which has been in place since the 1980s.
But at the same time, China's new leaders have cracked down on political dissent, tightening their control over freedom of expression and detaining dozens of activists since Xi took power at the end of 2012.
Ilham Tohti, an academic who has vocally criticised the authorities' treatment of China's mostly Muslim Uighur minority, last week became the latest government critic to be detained.
Xu Zhiyong, a prominent human rights lawyer, was tried in Beijing on Wednesday for his part in protests calling for officials to disclose their assets, and prosecutors called for him to receive the maximum five-year sentence for "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place".
According to the state-run Global Times newspaper Thursday, the new reform panel has a total of 19 members and will have six task forces devoted to "economic and ecological civilisation systems, democracy and the rule of law, culture, social systems, Party-building systems as well as in the disciplinary inspection system".
"One of the Plenum's key guiding principles is that the Party's leadership and the socialist system couldn't be changed, no matter how the reform is carried out," Yin Yungong, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the newspaper.
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