NPCSC Session Watch: Public Employee Sanctions, Veterans Support, Rural Revitalization & (Temporary?) Absence of Hong Kong National Security Law (Updated)

UPDATE (June 19, 2020): The NPCSC most certainly will not approve the Hong Kong National Security Law (HKNSL) on Saturday, the last day of its ongoing session, according to the latest information. The Council of Chairpersons met on Friday and approved the voting versions of several bills, which did not include the HKNSL. Similarly, multiple sources told the South China Morning Post that the Law “was unlikely to be passed during this meeting or come into effect on Saturday even if it was endorsed on the same day.”

UPDATE (June 18, 2020): Xinhua reports on Thursday that a draft Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法] has been submitted to the NPCSC for review. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our blog posts for future updates.

Our assessment as of June 18 is that the NPCSC will not pass the Hong Kong National Security Law at this session. Recall that for the Law to be enforced in Hong Kong, it is not enough that the NPCSC adopts it—it must also be listed in Annex III of the Hong Kong Basic Law. Were both actions—NPCSC approval and Annex III listing—to occur during a single session, by convention, the NPCSC would have to pass the Law first, and wait until the next day at least to list the Law in Annex III. This sequence of events theoretically could happen during this three-day session, but only if the NPCSC passes the Law on Friday (so that the listing can occur on Saturday). It does not appear that a plenary meeting (where voting occurs) is scheduled for Friday, however. The Law is thus unlikely to pass on Saturday, because the NPCSC would then have to wait till the next session (whether in July or August) to add it to Annex III—which would unnecessarily delay the process. The more likely scenario is that the NPCSC will consider the draft Law again in the near future, before approving it and listing it in Annex III during that meeting. This assessment is subject to change, however, as more information (such as the ongoing session’s daily schedule) becomes available. (Of course, that the Legislation Law essentially bars the NPCSC from adopting a new law after only a single review would be another reason why this Law won’t pass on Saturday, assuming the NPCSC follows the Legislation Law.)

The Council of Chairpersons decided on Tuesday, June 9 to convene the 19th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) from June 18 to 20. According to the official readout of the Council’s meeting, the upcoming session will consider five legislative bills. The readout does not mention the closely watched Hong Kong national security law that was authorized by the NPC’s May 28 decision, but this bill may still appear on the finalized agenda next week. A quick rundown follows.

Returning Bills

Three bills will return for further review.

First, the draft Law on Governmental Sanctions for Public Employees [公职人员政务处分法] will return for its third—and most likely final—review. While its second draft has included additional procedural safeguards for public employees facing sanctions, some scholars still found them inadequate. We will publish a separate summary of the Law after it passes.

Second, the draft revision to the People’s Armed Police Law [人民武装警察法] will return for its second review, only two months after an initial review by the NPCSC in April. We expect the revision to pass next week and will summarize the bill in our post-session recap.

Third, the draft revision to the Archives Law [档案法] will also return for its second review. It could be adopted at the upcoming session, but we would not rule out the possibility of a third and final review.

New Bills

Two new bills have been submitted for deliberation; both are Category II projects in 13th NPCSC’s five-year legislation plan.

First, the State Council submitted a draft Rural Revitalization Promotion Law [乡村振兴促进法]. The “rural revitalization strategy” [乡村振兴战略] was first proposed by Xi Jinping at the 19th Party Congress in 2017, with the goal of modernizing agriculture and rural areas. The draft Law will likely adhere to the five-year rural revitalization plan released by the Party Central Committee and the State Council, and provide a comprehensive legal framework governing issues such as protections for farmers’ rights, environmental and ecological management, and resolution of rural societal conflicts.

Second, the State Council and the Central Military Commission (CMC) jointly submitted a draft Veterans Support Law [退役军人保障法]. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs (founded in 2018 as part of that year’s State Council reorganization) was the primary drafter and would administer the Law.

We expect both bill to pass after three reviews.

Arms Trade Treaty

The State Council also requested the NPCSC to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2013 and entered into force on December 24, 2014. The ATT regulates the cross-border trade in several categories of conventional arms and prohibits their transfer under certain circumstances, such as when a State party knows that the arms would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave breaches of international law. The ATT also requires State Parties to establish and maintain national control systems, maintain records of authorized or actual exports, and submit annual reports on exports to the Treaty Secretariat. China abstained from the General Assembly vote on the ATT and has not signed it. But in September 2019, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that China had initiated domestic legal procedures to join the ATT.

Hong Kong National Security Law?

Last month, the NPC adopted a decision authorizing the NPCSC to draft and adopt a national security law for Hong Kong. Since then, there has been a flurry of activities by the central government to seek Hong Kong officials’ opinions on the law. While the bill has been expected to come before the NPCSC this month, the readout of the Council of Chairpersons’ meeting today does not mention it. But that is not the end of the story.

It is possible that the bill has been submitted to the NPCSC, but is kept secret for now. The Chinese character “等” (meaning “et cetera”) in the readout, which concludes the list of items on the session’s tentative agenda, lends support to this scenario. It could also be the case that the drafting process is still underway, but would wrap up soon. Thus, the bill is not on the tentative agenda because it has not been formally submitted yet. The Council of Chairpersons could place the bill on the final agenda before the NPCSC meets in nine days.

In any event, we will find out on June 18 whether the Hong Kong national security bill is on the NPCSC’s agenda this month.

Edited by Changhao Wei

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