NPC Observer Monthly: June 2023
New laws on foreign relations and accessible environments. New NPC body and National Ecology Day. Plus: 4 draft laws, including Patriotic Education Law, now open for public comment.
Welcome back to NPC Observer Monthly, a monthly newsletter about China’s national legislature: the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC).
Each issue will start with “News of the Month,” a recap of major NPC-related events from the previous month, with links to any coverage we have published on our main site, NPC Observer. If, during that month, we have also written posts that aren’t tied to current events, I’ll then provide a round-up in “Non-News of the Month.” Finally, depending on the month and my schedule, I may end an issue with musings on an NPC-related topic that is in some way connected to the past month.
This newsletter is very much a work in progress. If you have feedback on how we can improve this new service, or if there’s anything you’d like us to discuss in future issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And if you enjoyed this issue, I hope you’ll consider sharing it. —Changhao
News of the Month
The big event last month was of course the 14th NPCSC’s third session, held from June 26 to 28.
Before getting to that news, however, a quick note on scheduling. Because the NPCSC’s regular sessions typically take place close to the end of a month, issues of this newsletter that recap months in which the NPCSC have met will generally go out later than usual to give us adequate time to digest and write about new developments out of the NPC—and so that you, readers of this monthly newsletter, won’t have to wait another month for coverage of those developments (if you don’t also follow our main site).
Now back to the news.
On June 16, the Council of Chairpersons—a 15-member powerful decisionmaking body within the NPCSC—met to convene last month’s NPCSC session. Aside from formally proposing (but effectively deciding on) the session’s agenda (which we will cover below), the Council also approved the 14th NPCSC’s five-year plan for overseeing the management of state-owned assets, covering 2023–2027. Such oversight is governed by the NPCSC’s 2020 Decision on Strengthening Oversight of the Management of State-Owned Assets [关于加强国有资产管理情况监督的决定].
A key part of the oversight framework, as we have previously written, is a “a reporting scheme under which the State Council, as the owner and manager of state assets, submits two annual reports on its management of state assets to the NPCSC: a comprehensive report that ‘comprehensively and accurately reflects the basic situations of all types of state assets and their management’; and a special report that each year focuses on a single type of state assets.”
The new five-year oversight plan, like its previous iteration, is expected to detail the reports the State Council ought to submit in the next five years; specify the focus of the NPCSC’s oversight; and outline its plan for future reforms. The new plan is expected to be made public in the coming months.
On June 26–28, the 14th NPCSC met for its third session.
New laws: On June 28, it passed two new laws, the Barrier-Free Environments Development Law [无障碍环境建设法], effective September 1, 2023; and the Foreign Relations Law [对外关系法], which took effect on July 1, 2023.
The Barrier-Free Environments Development Law aims to primarily benefit persons with disabilities and the elderly, while offering incidental conveniences to others with accessibility needs. In the Law’s language (art. 2):
The State is to adopt measures to promote the development of barrier-free environments to help persons with disabilities and the elderly independently and safely access roads, enter and exit buildings and their ancillary facilities, and take public transportation; obtain, use, and exchange information; and obtain social services.
Where persons other than persons with disabilities and the elderly have accessibility needs, they may enjoy the conveniences of barrier-free environments.
The eventual scope of the Law’s targeted beneficiaries was much narrower than that of the Law’s first draft, which would benefit all “members of the society with accessibility needs” [有无障碍需求的社会成员], a rather inclusive concept. We plan to write about this Law in the coming weeks, introducing not only the finalized provisions but also the major changes made during the legislative process. Stay tuned.
The Foreign Relations Law has been characterized by legislative officials as a “fundamental and comprehensive” statute of China’s “foreign-related” legislation. My colleague at the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, Moritz Rudolf, has guest-blogged for us on the Law. I encourage everyone to read the full piece, but here’s an excerpt:
The Foreign Relations Law puts the PRC’s foreign policy rhetoric and praxis into law. It underlines the PRC’s increasing ambitions to act globally and to use the law as a tool to reshape the international legal environment and promote its long-term development goals. This development may be particularly appealing to states in the Global South, where the Western narrative of promoting a “rules-based international order” is increasingly perceived cynically.
As pointed out by China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in his People’s Daily op-ed from June 29, 2023, the Law needs to be understood in the context of “foreign struggles.” Xi Jinping Thought frames the post-18th Party Congress “New Era” as one in which “struggle” plays a fundamental role. Balancing the focus of “struggle” with the attempt to develop into a key stakeholder in the realm of international law appears to be the PRC’s most critical challenge. This Law is just one tool of “struggle,” but it sheds light on a fundamental obstacle for the Chinese leadership if it wants to promote legal certainty at the international level: balancing the “struggle” with Beijing’s “responsible great power” narrative. The Law does not solve this contradiction. On the contrary, it makes it more obvious.
New decisions: On June 28, the NPCSC also approved two new quasi-legislative decisions. In short, these decisions are legal instruments adopted by China’s national legislature without promulgation by the PRC president. They generally address specific legal matters and have limited applicability, but are considered to have the same force as laws.
The first decision established a new ministerial-level bureaucratic body under the NPCSC: the Deputies Affairs Commission [代表工作委员会], led by one director and two deputy directors (whom the NPCSC appointed on the same day). The Commission was created in accordance with this year’s Party-state restructuring plan, under which it has the following functions:
[The Commission will] take charge of work relating to the allocation of NPC delegate quotas, the review of their qualifications, and liaison services [for the delegates]; guide and coordinate work relating to the delegates’ group inspection tours, special research projects, and communications with the masses; assume overall management of work relating to NPC delegates’ bills and suggestions; supervise and manage NPC delegates’ performance of their duties; coordinate efforts to educate and train NPC delegates; guide the delegates work of the standing committees of provincial-level people’s congresses; and so forth. [It will also] undertake the specific work of the NPCSC Delegate Credentials Committee.
We have previously introduced the legislature’s “delegates work” [代表工作]: a range of activities carried out by the NPCSC, NPC special committees, as well as their members and staff to support—and, to a lesser extent, supervise—ordinary NPC delegates’ discharge of their duties.
With this new Commission, the NPC’s organizational structure now looks like this:
The other decision designated August 15 as the annual National Ecology Day [全国生态日]. The decision’s only other operative provision requires the government to “carry out publicity and educational activities on ecological civilization through various means.” It does, though, have a lengthy preamble that extols the contribution of the Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization to the “historic, transformative, and overall changes” in China’s environment protection. A core tenet of that Thought—“clear waters and green mountains are gold mountains and silver mountains” [绿水青山就是金山银山]—has become “a common philosophy” of all Chinese people, the preamble claims. Why pick August 15? According to the decision’s explanation, it was on that day in 2005 that Xi Jinping, then Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province, first used that slogan, now known as the “two mountains” theory.
On June 28, the NPCSC, moreover, released the other four bills it had reviewed last month for public comment through July 27, 2023:
draft revision to the Administrative Reconsideration Law [行政复议法];
draft revision to the Marine Environmental Protection Law [海洋环境保护法];
draft Patriotic Education Law [爱国主义教育法]; and
draft Law on Ensuring Food Security [粮食安全保障法].
Last month, the NPC released the official (but non-binding) English translations of six laws (in reverse-chronological order of release):
Criminal Law [刑法] (i.e., China’s substantive criminal code) (as amended Dec. 26, 2020, effective Mar. 1, 2021);
Women’s Rights and Interests Protection Law [妇女权益保障法] (as revised Oct. 30, 2022, effective Jan. 1, 2023);
Black Soil Protection Law [黑土地保护法] (adopted June 24, 2022, effective Aug. 1, 2022);
Blood Donation Law [献血法] (adopted Dec. 29, 1997, effective Oct. 1, 1998); and
NPCSC Decision on Temporarily Adjusting the Application of Certain Provisions of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law to the Armed Forces During Wartime [关于军队战时调整适用《中华人民共和国刑事诉讼法》部分规定的决定] (adopted and effective Feb. 25, 2023) (we covered this decision in depth here).
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I’ve been on the road lately, so must end this newsletter here lest it be delayed further. Thanks for reading!