The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) held a one-day session on Monday, February 24 and adopted two decisions that we will discuss below. It is worth mentioning that 57 legislators “attended” the session via videoconferencing (113 others showed up in person), and they voted by a show of hands in lieu of the usual electronic voting system.
To start, the NPCSC decided to postpone the NPC’s 2020 annual session “as appropriate” and to announce a new date separately. Since the NPCSC is unlikely to reconvene by the end of the month, it thus seems that it will have to break one of the NPC’s procedural rules. As we previously concluded, those rules would require that the NPCSC decide on a new date on Monday (assuming it wouldn’t meet again in February) and that the new date fall between March 24 and March 31 inclusive. The upshot of the NPCSC’s indecision today is either that the NPCSC wouldn’t meet by the end of March, or that the delegates wouldn’t have one month’s notice of the new start date.
We expect the NPCSC to convene a special session in early to mid-March to set a new date for this year’s NPC session.
Second, the NPCSC adopted a Decision on Comprehensively Prohibiting Illegal Trade in Wild Animals, Uprooting the Pernicious Habit of Eating Wild Animals, and Earnestly Safeguarding the People’s Lives, Health & Safety [关于全面禁止非法野生动物交易、革除滥食野生动物陋习、切实保障人民群众生命健康安全的决定]. According to an NPCSC spokesperson, this Decision was intended to be a temporary measure until more comprehensive revisions to existing wildlife laws could be considered.
The Decision has two core operative provisions.
First, it reiterates that all existing bans on “hunting, trading in, transporting, and consuming wild animals” must be “strictly” enforced (art. 1, para. 1). It authorizes law enforcement agencies to impose penalties beyond what existing law allows for violations of those bans (id. para. 2).
Second, with some limited exceptions (to be discussed below), the Decision bans all consumption of “terrestrial wild animals having important ecological, scientific, and social values” that are under national protection and of all other terrestrial wild animals, including those bred or raised in captivity (art. 2, para. 1). As an accompanying measure, it also bans all hunting, trade in, and transportation of “terrestrial wild animals that grow and breed naturally in the wild” for the purpose of consumption (id. para. 2). Existing law, in particular the Wild Animals Protection Law [野生动物保护法], does not prohibit consumption itself, even when it comes to protected animals; rather, it proscribes only the manufacture or sales of foods made from wild animals, or the purchases of these animals to eat (art. 30). The Decision does not specify any penalty for violations of its ban, but instead provides that violations are to be punished “with reference to applicable existing laws” (art. 2, para. 3).
The Decision carves out two important exceptions to its “eating ban.” First, by its own wording—its repetition of the word “terrestrial”—the ban does not apply to fish and other aquatic wild animals. Second, the Decision provides that any animal listed in a Directory of Genetic Resources of Livestock and Poultry [畜禽遗传资源目录] (to be promulgated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs) would be regulated by the Animal Husbandry Law [畜牧法] (art. 3), thereby implying that neither itself nor the Wild Animals Protection Law would govern. Those animals would include rabbits and pigeons, which, an NPCSC official specially pointed out, have given rise to industries that play an important role in poverty alleviation.
Finally, the Decision requires the relevant local governments to provide compensation to those rural households whose businesses and livelihoods would be affected by the new ban (art. 7).
The Decision took effect on Monday.
The NPCSC spokesperson also gave a preview of planned legislation in response to the coronavirus epidemic. First, revisions to both the Wild Animals Protection Law and the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law [动物防疫法] have been listed in the NPCSC’s 2020 legislative plan. Second, the legislature will expedite its consideration of the Biosecurity Law [生物安全法], first reviewed last October. Third, it will “timely” draft and review legislation to improve the Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control Law [传染病防治法] and China’s public health emergency management system in general.