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A New Perspective on the Rule of Law in China

Mar 24, 2014

The 2014 sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) attracted unprecedented global attention. The new Chinese leadership just completed its first year in office and made significant progress in changing officials’ working style, expanding a crackdown on corruption, deepening reform, exercising scientific management, lessening social injustice, increasing attention to people’s livelihoods, engaging in a foreign policy of peace, and combining a rich country with a strong military. As such, huge changes are taking place in China, and public satisfaction has increased. According to a CCTV report, big data indicates that the US ranks the fourth on the list of the top ten countries showing interest in China’s “two sessions”. This may be because what China does will have a bearing on American interests. In today’s international political environment, the two sides taking off their Cold War lenses and adopting a new perspective is key to exploring a new model of big country relationship.

The new perspective should allow people to see constant progress in China’s rule of law. As NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying pointed out at a press conference on March 4, “China has had its socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics since 2010. It is an important achievement in China’s effort to rule the country according to law.” The Chinese legal system demonstrates five features. First, it now has complete sets of laws. By 2010, there were already 239 laws, over 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local laws. Second, grassroots autonomy has become a basic political system with extensive implementation of Organic Law of the Villagers’ Committee and development of local rules governing election of villagers’ committees. Third, democratic centralism is practiced in various aspects of the operations of the Communist Party of China (CPC) including leadership, organization, election and supervision, with open management of party affairs and soliciting of opinions concerning major policy decisions. Fourth, the multiple regulations on the supervision and performance assessment of cadres and the Civil Servant Law increased democracy in employment and human resources. Fifth, it is moving towards a judicial system with special features. Over 35 reform measures in legal actions and procuratorial supervision, and 60 measures to optimize the structure and functions of judicial organs have been implemented.

The new perspective should also allow people to see huge changes in rule of law in the past year. Since President Xi Jinping vowed to build China into a country under the rule of law, judicial reforms in six areas have been strengthened: the human, fiscal and material resources for courts and procuratoriates below provincial levels are centralized to the provincial level to allow judicial allocation of jurisdiction certain independence from administrative divisions; the operational mechanism for judicial power and the accountability system for the presiding judge and the collegial panel have been further improved; procedures on commutation, parole and release for medical treatment are now strictly regulated; mechanisms to prevent, redress and account for misjudgment have been made more robust with a strict requirement to observe the exclusionary rule; the rule that complaint reporting involving law and litigation should be handled strictly according to law and through legal procedures is established; and the reeducation through labor system is abolished. All of these measures have contributed to the advancement of China’s rule of law. For example, the abolition of the reeducation through the labor system has put an end to the “most complained and most irrational” judicial mechanism that had been in existence for over half a century since 1955, removing long-standing problems of human rights violation or abusive retaliation by government officials. The separation between administrative and jurisdictional divisions contains local government’s intervention in judicial operations. The accountability system for the presiding judge and the collegial panel strengthened the functions of courts and procuratoriates to independently exercise their powers. With judicial openness to strengthen supervision by the people and government-sponsored whistleblowing website, the public is ab;e to expose and hold accountable corrupt officials. Building China into a country under rule of law is an important topic of the NPC and CPPCC sessions. According to Fu Ying, “the NPC and its Standing Committee has done a lot to improve the national system to punish and prevent corruption. We have made or revised the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Civil Servant Law, Anti-Money Laundering Law, Government Procurement Law and the Tendering and Bidding Law etc..” The above-mentioned reforms represent new breakthroughs in advancing the rule of law in China.

The new perspective should further allow people to see that China is exploring a new form of government. Some US politicians and the public have an epistemic paradox: China, a single-party authoritarian state, has achieved in 30 years what the West had done in 300 years and passed Japan in 2010 to become the second largest economy in the world. Should such an epistemic paradox be changed? Should there be some new reflections over the Chinese form of government? John Naisbitt in his China’s Megatrends writes that China is creating an entirely new social, economic and political system, that by balancing the top-down and bottom-up political orders China has forced a unique “vertical democracy different from the horizontal one of the West, and that China will not only change the global economy but also challenge Western democracy with its own model in coming decades. While the US has a system of two party elections, China has multi-party consultation. Such differences originate from their varying civilizations, with respective strengths and shortcomings. They should therefore learn from each other.

There are of course still many problems in China such as corruption, polarization and privileged classes. We need the rule of law to constantly develop and improve, and we need to rebuild our morals and values. Many deputies to the NPC and CPPCC sessions point out that because of China’s unsteady rule of law, constant efforts have to be made to allow every progress towards and to modernize government administration. And we, the people, do expect a new China under the rule of law.

Chen Qun is Former Vice President of the China Law Press.

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