In a stunning reversal of some long-standing policies, China's ruling Communist Party announced a series of sweeping reforms on Friday, including a plan to abolish its notorious "re-education" camps. The wide-ranging changes are designed to reduce some of the loudest complaints of regular Chinese citizens, while also convincing the rest of the world that they are a more open and tolerant society. (And a good place to do business.)

While the end of the "re-education through labor" system may be the most dramatic, it's not the only surprising change to be announced at this week's Third Plenary Session (a regular gathering of the party's top planners.) The government will also ease its controversial one-child policy, allowing urban couples to have a second child if one of the parents is also an only child. (Most rural families are already exempt.) Originally conceived as an effort to control an exploding population, the one-child per family rule has now been in effect for so long that there are serious concerns that the youngest generations won't be enough to support a rapidly aging society.

Among the other changes announced today:

  • A reduction in the number of crimes subject to the death penalty
  • Relaxed banking regulations that will allow small private firms to set up their own banks
  • A new intellectual property court that will strengthen the rights of patent holders, prevent piracy, and help innovators get more out of their ideas
  • New tax laws that will attempt create a more equitable redistribution of income
  • Improved law enforcement at the local level, and new commitment to uphold the laws of the constitution

One of the biggest obstacles to economic growth in China is a distrust of the legal system and fears that government won't protect businesses and profits (or will actively undermine them.) Most of these new reforms are specifically targeted at those entrepreneurs (and their foreign partners.) If they can be convinced that China is a safe place to do business. And if the Chinese people can be convinced that simple protests won't land them in a prison camp without charges or trial, they just might go along with. Beijing still has a long way to go on that trust front — many of the international news sites touting this plan are still censored there — but this at least one small step in that direction.