Year in Review: The NPC and the Observer in 2019

As we bid farewell to first decade of the 21st century, we look back today at the National People’s Congress’s and this Observer’s work in 2019.

The NPC in 2019

In 2019, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) was in session for a total of 28½ days. It held six regularly scheduled sessions and two special sessions. At the first special session in January, it conducted a second review of the draft Foreign Investment Law [外商投资法] and submitted the bill to the full NPC. And at the second one in September, the NPCSC decided to confer various State honors on certain individuals. In the interim, the 13th NPC met for its second, 10½-day annual session in March. Altogether, the NPC and its Standing Committee enacted six new laws, approved major changes to six, and reviewed another eleven legislative bills (all Civil Code [民法典] subparts are considered a single bill). See lists at the end of this section for details. Given the legislature’s focus on the draft Civil Code in 2019, numerically, its 2019 report card may not seem as impressive as 2018’s. But the 13th NPC has nonetheless outperformed its predecessor during the second year of their respective terms.

NPC lawmaking by year (2013–2019)
* Excluding decisions on legal issues, such as the June special amnesty decision.
** Excluding amendments adopted after a single round of deliberations.

And now, we present our annual list of highlights of the NPC’s work in the past year, in no particular order of significance:

  • In March, the NPC adopted the Foreign Investment Law, set to take effect on New Year’s Day. The Law will repeal China’s three existing foreign investment laws and replace them with a new regime that grants foreign investments national treatment in the investment access stage, unless a “negative list” provides otherwise. 2019 is also the fifth consecutive year in which the full NPC exercises its legislative power.
  • Last week, the NPCSC abolished “custody and education”—a decades-old extrajudicial detention system used against sex workers and their clients—a year after the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission recommended the system’s abolition. This is the first known case where the NPCSC’s “recording and review” (R&R) [备案审查] process led the legislature to repeal one of its own enactments.
  • In June, the NPCSC decided to grant special amnesty to nine classes of convicts ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in October. That decision marked the ninth time the NPCSC has exercised such a constitutional authority in P.R.C. history—and the second time during Xi’s tenure. It led to the release of 23,593 convicts nationwide.
  • As noted earlier, in September, the NPCSC decided to confer State honors on 42 individuals: 8 “Medal of the Republic” [共和国勋章] recipients, 6 “Medal of Friendship” [友谊勋章] recipients, and 28 recipients of various State honorary titles. That was the first time in over 30 years that the NPCSC exercised its constitutional authority to decide on the conferral of State honors and State honorary titles.
  • In August, the Legislative Affairs Commission appointed two spokespersons and held its first-ever press conference. The Commission has so far held three press conferences—one before each of the NPCSC’s sessions in August, October, and December—and has devoted a better part of each event to explaining the legislative agenda of the upcoming NPCSC session and the public comments the Commission had received on draft legislation. This is a welcomed move by the legislature to increase its transparency, accessibility, and responsiveness to recent events. Relatedly:
    • Commission spokespersons had to twice address the legalization of same-sex marriage—first in October in response to a journalist’s question, and then in December after the Commission had received volumes of public comments urging legalization of same-sex marriage. Although the spokespersons all but ruled out the possibility of legalization, their mere acknowledgement of the issue “caused mass online celebration,” wrote one observer.
    • In November, a Commission spokesperson issued a statement criticizing a ruling by the Hong Kong Court of First Instance that partially invalidated, on separation-of-powers grounds, Hong Kong’s Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO)—pursuant to which the city government had banned the wearing of facial coverings in certain public gatherings. The statement argued (unpersuasively, in our view) that the ruling contravened a 1997 NPCSC decision that had declared the ERO compatible with the Hong Kong Basic Law. We feared then that the statement portended imminent NPCSC intervention in the litigation, but the legislature so far has not done so.
    • Last week, a Commission spokesperson gave the public a rare, early preview of the NPCSC’s legislative agenda in 2020. Ordinarily, the NPCSC would first disclose its legislative agenda of the year during that year’s NPC session in March.
  • On the other end of the transparency spectrum, the NPCSC still has not released its 2019 legislative and oversight plans on the last day of this year. We may never know the reason, but one thing is for sure: withholding the plans from the public is a violation of article 52 of the Law on Legislation [立法法].
  • In December, the NPCSC launched a new online platform for citizens to request NPCSC review of the legality or constitutionality of sub-statutory documents through the R&R process. In our view, the platform, thanks to its user-friendly interface, would greatly enhance the accessibility of the R&R process, but its outdated database could ultimately hurt its utility. Relatedly:
    • In early 2019, as part of its R&R work, the Legislative Affairs Commission concluded that several local regulations that authorized the traffic police to inspect the communication records of motorists involved in accidents infringed on citizens’ constitutional “freedom and privacy of correspondence” [通信自由和通信秘密]. Although the Commission’s reasoning remains unclear, we argued that its decision must have ultimately relied on the Constitution. Last week, the Commission reported to the NPCSC that the relevant regulations had all been amended.

In October, the NPC also partially updated its website. It got a new header, a new online public comments system, and a new URL system that disabled a significant number of links on this Blog, giving us quite a headache. But we are pleased to report that we have fixed them all.

New laws passed in 2019

Revisions & major amendments passed in 2019

Legislative bills still pending by the end of 2019

The NPC Observer in 2019

In 2019, this Blog published 42 blogposts and received close to 69,000 pageviews (a roughly 30% increase over 2018) by more than 28,000 visitors from 156 jurisdictions worldwide. Readers in the United States contributed about a quarter of the total traffic, followed by those from Hong Kong, mainland China, United Kingdom, and Germany. And over 2,900 of you have followed us on Twitter or Facebook.

Our summary of the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) was the most viewed post in 2019, followed by our annotated translation of the 2018 constitutional amendment that was comprehensively updated in February. The FIL’s bill page™ was the most viewed bill page in 2019, followed by the bill pages for the Civil Code, E-Commerce Law [电子商务法], the Drug Administration Law [药品管理法], and the Export Control Law [出口管制法]. And when ranked by link clicks, our translations of the first, second, and final versions of the FIL (available on China Law Translate) claim the three top spots. The point is, the FIL has gotten a lot of attention.

In October, we celebrated this Blog’s third birthday. As we said then, we are grateful for the people we have met thanks to the Blog and for the many more anonymous readers whose daily visits incentivize us to keep the Blog running. It is a privilege to have become a trusted source on the NPC in just three years, but with that trust comes a greater obligation to be accurate, informative, reasoned, and timely in our reporting and analysis. We hope we will continue to earn your trust in 2020 and beyond.

That concludes our programming in 2019. Best wishes to everyone in 2020.

Happy New Year!

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