FRIDAY: China Sells Out

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BEIJING: As the 15th Communist Party Congress expected to inaugurate an era of reforms opened Friday, the party was already preparing for the monumental transformation of state-run stores into private enterprises, reports TIME Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime Florcruz. In typical Chinese fashion, though, party chief Jiang Zemin stops short of Western "privatization," instead calling for a "common ownership" system under which workers will be sold stock in most of China's 370,000 state firms.

Florcruz reports about half the antiquated stores reported losses last year. But fears of unemployment and social unrest had stopped Beijing from shutting them down. Now that this issue has been broached, is Jiang ready to take up press freedoms and direct elections? Florcruz notes such radical changes have been under public discussion in recent weeks in Beijing. And the fact that the party is, for the first time ever, granting foreign reporters access to political discussions could be a sign of changes to come.