The Legislative Affairs Commission [法制工作委员会] of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC)—a body that provides essential legislative and research support to China’s national legislature—held its first ever press conference today (August 21). The Commission has designated two spokespersons—the directors of its Research Office [研究室] and Legislative Planning Office [立法规划室]—and indicated that it will hold regular press conferences from now on.
Zang Tiewei [臧铁伟], the spokesperson who took the podium today, spent roughly the first hour discussing the public comments the legislature had received on recent draft legislation. This development is significant because it marks the first time that the NPCSC complied with the requirement of the Law on Legislation [立法法] as amended in 2015—that it “shall report to the public on its solicitations of comments [on draft laws]” (art. 37). The spokesperson gave only an oral summary of the comments; no written reports have been released. Given the format, he provided only very general descriptions of the views reflected by the submitted comments and then said that the drafts had been revised to “reflect” or “respond to” those views, or that those views were still being studied, or that for various reasons they were not adopted. We welcome such move by the NPCSC to increase transparency in the legislative process. Yet we think it can and should do more. It should release written summaries of the public comments it receives and disclose which ones it has accepted, which ones it has not, and why. In fact, the NPCSC has released such lengthy summaries when it first started soliciting public comments on select bills in the 2000s (one example here). It now should re-start with at least that.
Later in the press conference, Zang answered a question from Reuters on China’s efforts (if any) to legalize same-sex marriage. While not explicitly saying so, he essentially ruled out the possibility that China would legalize same-sex marriage in the near future. He said that limiting marriage to unions of one man and one woman “conforms to China’s national conditions [国情] and historical and cultural traditions.” He also cited the fact that “the vast majority of countries in the world don’t recognize the legality of same-sex marriage” as another reason why the draft Civil Code maintains the current legal regime. Despite the government’s stance on same-sex marriage, activists have flooded the NPC’s public comments system with over hundreds of thousands of comments in hopes that the Civil Code would open the institution of marriage to all. (The exact number is hard to determine because the NPCSC did not separately solicit comments on the first draft of the Civil Code Part on Marriage and Family [婚姻家庭编], but rather as part of a single bill—which received a total of 440,491 comments. The second draft of the marriage part received 67,388 comments).
Zang briefly addressed the Hong Kong protests before ending the press conference. He said that “the current overriding imperative is to end the violence and riots and restore order” (although tens of thousands of Hong Kongers protested peacefully last weekend). In response to a Lianhe Zaobao journalist’s question whether the NPCSC “would consider studying issues about Hong Kong’s political reform,” Zeng signaled that the legislature would not reconsider a 2014 decision that laid down the requirements for, and the steps towards, a purported “universal election” of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. Under the scheme established by the decision, it is believed that only pro-Beijing candidates would be nominated.
Zang also mentioned during the press conference that the NPCSC would consider a new amendment to the Criminal Law and changes to the Administrative Penalties Law [行政处罚法] later this year. He ignored a question from a Legal Daily reporter on the progress towards adopting a Real Estate Tax Law [房地产税法] (no such bill has been submitted to the NPCSC).