NPCSC Session Watch: COVID-19 Responses, Copyright, Armed Police Reform & Silence on 2020 NPC (Updated)

UPDATE (Apr. 28, 2020): The NPCSC decided on April 29 that the NPC’s 2020 session will start on May 22. We do not know how long the session will be at this point. They ordinarily last around ten days, but several outlets reported that this year’s would be shortened to only a week. The official schedule is expected to be released the day before the session starts, on May 21.

The NPCSC also approved the revision to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste, effective September 1, 2020, and the decision to authorize the suspension of certain statutory provisions in the Hainan Free Trade Zone, to expire on December 31, 2024.

UPDATE (Apr. 26, 2020): According to the official readout of the first plenary meeting of the NPCSC’s session this week, the Council of Chairpersons has indeed submitted a draft decision on the new dates for NPC’s 2020 session. We expect the NPCSC to adopt the draft decision and announce the new dates this Wednesday. Bloomberg reported last week that the NPC might meet from May 23 to 30.

The Council of Chairpersons decided on Friday, April 17 to convene the 17th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) from April 26 to 29. Contrary to what we have expected, this upcoming session seems to be a regular bi-monthly session, where the NPCSC will review seven legislative bills. Below, we will briefly review the session’s agenda before turning to the question on everyone’s mind (well, ours at least): when will the NPC meet this year?

COVID-19 Responses

After the COVID-19 epidemic broke out, Xi Jinping chaired a meeting where he emphasized the need to “improve the relevant legislation on epidemic prevention and control.” In accordance with his directive, the legislature has recently established task forces to draft new bills and expedited the relevant bills already in progress. The agenda of this upcoming session thus features several such items.

First, the Biosecurity Law [生物安全法] returns for its second review. While its first draft (reviewed last October) has not been released for public comment, state media reported that the Law would “prevent and control major emerging infectious diseases” as well as “safeguard laboratory biosecurity.” The bill is likely to pass at this month’s session, although we would not rule out the possibility of a third and final review later this year.

Second, the NPC Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee has submitted a draft revision to the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law [动物防疫法]. This bill has been expedited in response to COVID-19 pandemic; it is the first Category II project in 13th NPCSC’s five-year legislative plan to come before the NPCSC. We should know more about the contents of the draft revision once the NPCSC is in session. We expect it to pass after two or three reviews.

Lastly, the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission will report to the NPCSC on a work plan to improve public health–related legislation. The plan will likely lay down legislative timetables to update laws including the Wild Animals Protection Law [野生动物保护法], Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases [传染病防治法], Frontier Health and Quarantine Law [国境卫生检疫法], and Emergency Response Law [突发事件应对法]. The NPCSC generally does not release internal work documents to the public; it is unclear whether it will do so this time.

Other Bills

Two other draft laws will return for further review. First, the draft revision to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste [固体废物污染环境防治法] returns for a third—and most likely final—review. As usual, we will summarize it in our post-session recap. Second, the draft Law on Governmental Sanctions for Public Employees [公职人员政务处分法] returns for a second review. Its first draft (released for public comments last October) has faced severe criticisms from Chinese legal scholars for its vague language and extensive use of party-speak, among other issues. We expect the Law to pass after a third review later this year.

Three additional new bills have been submitted for deliberations.

First, the State Council submitted a draft amendment to the Copyright Law [著作权法]. State Council agencies have previously solicited public comments on three versions of the bill, twice in 2012 and once 2014. Those drafts are said to have overhauled the Law’s structure and some changes have proven quite controversial. This likely explains the delay in the bill’s submission to the NPCSC and why it is now styled as an “amendment” [修正案], rather than a “revision” [修订] (as it has been as recently as last June). Amendments are generally less extensive than revisions, so it is possible that the State Council has decided to leave out some of the more controversial provisions this time and to focus on ones that have already garnered consensus. We expect the amendment to pass after three reviews.

Second, the Central Military Commission submitted a draft revision to the People’s Armed Police Law [人民武装警察法]. This bill will likely codify reforms of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) since late 2017, most notably the elimination of the prior dual-command structure, which has brought the PAP under sole military control. Other changes include various adjustments to the PAP’s duties and functions, reflected in the 2018 institutional reorganization plan, such as the removal of fire-fighting, forest, and other forces from the PAP’s ranks and the incorporation of the China Coast Guard into the PAP. We expect the revision to pass after two or three reviews.

Finally, the NPCSC will also consider a draft decision to authorize the suspension of certain statutory provisions in the Hainan Free Trade Zone. The decision will likely implement the various reform programs laid out in a joint Communist Party and State Council opinion on Hainan, released two years ago this month. We expect the decision to pass at this upcoming session.

2020 NPC?

Missing from the official readout of the Council of Chairpersons’ meeting is any mention of the NPC’s 2020 session. The NPC’s annual session this year was original scheduled for March 5, but was indefinitely postponed in late February in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Reuters reported in mid-March that the session had been “tentatively” scheduled for “late April or early May,” but this timeline now looks no longer possible.

On April 29, the last day of its upcoming session, the NPCSC could still decide on a new date for the NPC. It is not uncommon for the NPCSC to add new bills to its agenda at the last minute. But even were this to occur, the earliest the NPC can meet now seems mid-May, if not later.

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