China’s devolved lawmaking put on notice as Xi Jinping signals tighter control

03-Mar-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

President Xi Jinping has pledged to hold legislation at China’s provincial level and below to greater scrutiny just six years after delegating lawmaking powers to more than 200 additional local legislatures.

“Upholding the integrity of national laws is a serious political problem. Our country is a unitary state,” Xi said in an internal speech last November that was published on Monday by the Communist Party’s flagship magazine Qiushi.

Xi’s comments indicated that after several years of decentralising legislative power, he intends to centralise it again having been dissatisfied with a lack of unity in lawmaking, as Beijing seeks to tighten control over local policy in almost all areas.

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China’s legislatures at provincial and lower levels are allowed to pass local laws on certain matters, including on economy, health and education, provided they do not contradict national laws.

Although Xi hailed the 2015 amendment delegating power to make local laws to 273 additional cities as “generally good”, he slammed unspecified local laws for superseding national legislation as well as “legislative slack” referring to their lax control. “This has created very bad influence,” he said. “[We] must strengthen the implementation of the constitution and constitutional review, and resolutely correct and nullify any regulations and documents that contravene the constitution.”

Xi’s remarks underscored his dissatisfaction with local governments using their legislative powers to sidestep orders from Beijing, according to Qin Qianhong, a law professor with Wuhan University.

“From his perspective, he’s most concerned with the lukewarm implementation [by local authorities] of orders issued by central party leaders,” he said. “On paper, it’s about [defending] the integrity of national laws, but it’s really about the unification of minds within the party.”

Xi’s wish to more stringently control local lawmaking is not aided by how the country’s new laws at that level are reviewed, Qin added.

China does not have a constitutional court, with reviews including of local laws carried out by the different levels of legislatures themselves.

“There has been a great leap forward in lawmaking since 2015,” said Qin, of Wuhan University, referring to the legislative amendment. “And there’s only limited capacity to review all those new laws and regulations.”

Xi’s speech was published with China this year beginning its new five-year plan which was released in November and sets out economic and political goals for 2021 to 2025 and preparing for the Communist Party’s centenary. The speech provided a comprehensive look at Xi’s views on China’s legal system, which he said would serve as a support to the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

In the speech, Xi reiterated that China would never copy the Western model of constitutional democracy, separation of the three powers and judicial independence.

He also called for legislation to catch up in areas where laws and regulations had lagged behind, including internet financing, cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence.

Xi had previously only publicly referred to “legislative slack” in a 2018 speech which described a set of conservation regulations from the northwestern province of Gansu as a typical example of the problem. “It was a ‘legislative slack’ and a total absence of law enforcement, causing the severe damage of the Qilian Mountains,” he said. “[We] must learn deep lessons [from this].”

A national conservation law prohibited 10 types of activity in all national natural reserves, but a provincial law promulgated by Gansu banned only three giving loopholes for illegal mining in the Qilian range, according to investigators sent by central party leaders in 2017. A statement on the investigation said that, despite Xi’s repeated instructions, the provincial leadership had failed to update the local legislation.

Wang Sanyun, former party secretary of Gansu, was the most senior official found responsible, the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog said. Wang was jailed for 12 years on corruption charges in 2019.

Before the 2015 amendment, only 49 cities had the power to make local laws. Since then, the additional 273 cities have introduced 1,300 new local laws and regulations, according to official data.

In his speech published on Monday, Xi also called for limiting the total number of lawsuits in the country and resolving more disputes outside the court system. “With a population of 1.4 billion in our country, if litigation is required for all matters, China will definitely be overloaded,” he said.

In his speech, Xi cited the “fengqiao experience”, a mechanism from the Mao Zedong era in which social disputes were resolved at grass-roots level before being taken to higher legal bodies.

There were 6.1 million litigation cases nationwide in 2019, a year-on-year increase of 22.7 per cent, according to the official numbers.

“This means that other social mediation channels are needed to resolve the growing number of disputes, to solve them at the grass-roots level,” said Zhang Jianwei, a law professor with Tsinghua University in Beijing.


Category: China

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