NPCSC Session Watch: Three-Child Policy, Data Privacy, Innovation Policy, Court Reform & New National Law in Hong Kong & Macau

The Council of Chairpersons decided on Tuesday, July 27 to convene the 30th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) from August 17 to 20. The session’s tentative agenda includes fifteen bills. A quick rundown follows.

Returning Bills

Eight bills return for further review.

The draft Personal Information Protection Law [个人信息保护法], draft Supervision Officials Law [监察官法], draft Legal Aid Law [法律援助法], and draft Physicians Law [医师法] all return for their third—and most likely final—review.

The draft revision to the Military Service Law [兵役法], draft Anti–Organized Crime Law [反有组织犯罪法], draft Family Education Law [家庭教育法], and draft Land Borders Law [陆地国界法] all return for their second round of deliberations. While they may pass at the upcoming session, we would not rule out the possibility of a third and final review later this year.

We will cover any approved bills in our post-session recap.

New Bills

Seven new bills have been submitted for review.

First, the State Council submitted a draft amendment to the Population and Family Planning Law [人口与计划生育法]. Shortly after results of China’s latest census document an ongoing demographic crisis caused by an aging and slow-growing population, the Communist Party Politburo on May 31 announced that all couples would be allowed have three children. The prior policy since late 2015 had allowed each family to have two children. The new three-child policy was later included a comprehensive policy document that aims to “optimize birth policies and promote long-term balanced population growth.” Among the supporting measures for the new policy, the document proposes to discontinue the so-called “social upbringing fees” [社会抚养费], potentially ruinous fines for couples who exceed birth limit. The present amendment is expected to codify the three-child policy and some of the supporting measures laid out in the policy document. We expect it to pass at the upcoming session. (As a side note, the National Health Commission has announced that, despite the lack of statutory changes so far, all babies born after May 31, the day of the Politburo’s announcement, would be covered by the three-child policy.)

Second, the NPC Education, Science, Culture, and Public Health Committee submitted a draft revision to the Scientific and Technological Progress Law [科学技术进步法], last comprehensively updated in 2007. This project was recently prioritized as part of a comprehensive legislative plan to update China’s public health–related legislation in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to an official with the Ministry of Science and Technology, this round of updates would focus on, among other issues, providing long-term support to basic research, cultivating future scientists and researchers, and offering all-around policy support for innovation. We expect the revision to pass after two or three reviews.

Third, the NPC Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee submitted a draft revision to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Noise Pollution [环境噪声污染防治法]. This would the first major update to the Law since its enactment in 1996. To underscore the necessity of revamping the Law, a Ministry of Ecology and Environment official disclosed in 2020 that noise complaints made up over 60 percent of all complaints received by environmental protection authorities in large and medium-sized cities. According to that official, the revision would strengthen the regulation of all sources of noise, including industrial production, construction, transportation, and daily activities, as well as more clearly demarcate the regulatory authorities of various agencies, among other changes. The revision will likely pass after three reviews.

Fourth, the NPC Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee submitted a draft amendment to the Seed Law [种子法]. In April, the State Council submitted a legislative package to streamline the regulatory process in various fields, which included an amendment to the Seed Law. That amendment was shelved, however, as the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee was drafting a separate Seed Law amendment, so as to avoid twice changing the Law within a short period of time. This new draft amendment would thus have a broader scope and may undergo two reviews before being approved.

Fifth, the Council of Chairpersons submitted a pair of draft decisions to add one or more national laws to Annexes III to the Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macau. National laws do not apply to the two special administrative regions (SARs) unless they are listed in Annexes III to their Basic Laws. Last June, for instance, the NPCSC applied a tailor-made national security law to Hong Kong through the Annex III listing mechanism. Various media outlets have reported that the NPCSC would apply the Anti–Foreign Sanctions Law [反外国制裁法], enacted in June, to the two SARs at its upcoming session. While that Law primarily vests authority in central government agencies to employ countermeasures against foreign sanctions, a few provisions impose obligations on private entities. Article 14, for instance, subjects any “organization or individual who fails to implement or to cooperate in implementing countermeasures” to legal liabilities. Once this Law is listed in Annexes III, the two SARs will be responsible for enacting legislation to prescribe those liabilities.

We speculated on Twitter that the NPCSC may apply the forthcoming Land Borders Law to the two SARs as well. But after further research, we realized we might have been mistaken. It seems that the term “borders” [国界] is used in its literal sense in the bill: the boundaries between sovereign states, not subnational entities (here, the SARs and the Mainland). The bill’s drafter, the NPC Foreign Affairs Committee, conducted field research only in provinces that border other countries, which the two SARs do not. Of course, had the NPCSC released the bill’s first draft for public comments, this discussion would not have been necessary.

We expect the NPCSC to approve both Annex III decisions at its session next month.

Finally, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) requested an authorization to carry out pilot reforms to (re)orient the adjudicatory functions [审级职能定位] of China’s four tiers of courts, both at the SPC itself and in certain lower courts. This reform project was included in both the SPC’s fifth five-year court reform plan (released in 2019) and the recent Plan for Building the Rule of Law in China (2020–2025). Both documents propose to let higher-level courts hear cases that have general guidance value for the application of law or that implicate the societal public interest. Beyond that, there has not been much public information on this reform pilot. We expect the NPCSC to grant the authorization at the upcoming session.

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