The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) concluded its 31st session on Saturday, October 23, with the approval of six bills. We already wrote about and translated the decision authorizing the State Council to carry out pilot projects on a property tax in selected regions. Below, we will briefly summarize the other five bills.
The new Family Education Promotion Law [家庭教育促进法], with 55 articles in six chapters, is China’s first comprehensive national law laying down rules on parents and other guardians’ education of the minors in their care. It defines “family education” as “cultivation, guidance, and influence carried out by parents or other guardians to promote the overall healthy growth of minors, in terms of [their] moral character, physical caliber, life skills, cultural literary, and behavioral habits” (art. 2).
The primary responsibility for family education rests, naturally, with the parents and other guardians (art. 14). The Law then prescribes guidelines on what they should teach their children and how (Ch. II). Consistent with the Chinese government’s recent regulatory actions over education, the Law requires parents to “reasonably manage minors’ time for study, rest, entertainment, and exercise,” in particular to avoid increasing their study burden and preventing them from becoming addicted to the internet (art. 22).
Despite the Law’s repeated use of the word “shall,” the obligations it imposes on parents are not enforceable with penalties. When entities likely neighborhood committees, employers, or schools discover that parents refuse to carry out their family education obligations or do so inadequately, they can only “criticize, educate, admonish, and stop” them and, when necessary, “urge” them to receive family education guidance (art. 48). The police, procuratorates, or courts may admonish parents and “order” them to receive family education guidance, but only if the parents have infringed on minors’ rights by incorrectly carrying out family education or if the minors have engaged in “serious misbehavior” or criminal conduct (art. 49). (“Serious misbehavior” is a term of art referring to (1) conduct that is criminalized but for which minors cannot be prosecuted because of their age; and (2) other conduct that “seriously endangers the society,” including vandalism and drug use.) Under the Law’s first draft, failure to abide by the orders to receive family education guidance would be punishable by a fine and even detention, but later drafts deleted those penalties as they were seen as “excessive intervention” by the government.
The Law also requires governmental bodies to support, and a variety of non-governmental entities, such as schools, childcare institutions, and medical institutions, to cooperate with, family education. It will take effect on January 1, 2022.
The Land Borders Law [陆地国界法], with 62 articles in seven chapters, is China’s first national law governing the delimitation and survey of land borders, defense of land borders and border areas, their management, and international cooperation over border-related matters. The Law is not meant to change existing practices relating to border security and management, but instead codifies those practices and provides them with a clearer legal basis. It will come into effect on January 1, 2022.
Finally, the amendment to the Audit Law [审计法] aims to strengthen the authority of audit offices and auditors, who conduct a form of intra-governmental oversight. Many changes expand the jurisdiction of audit offices by codifying various policy documents on reforming the audit system, including the 2018 governmental reorganization plan. The audit offices’ authority now extends to, for instance, state-owned assets, state-owned resources, public funds, major public works projects that concern the national interest or public interest but are not (entirely or mostly) government-funded, as well as non-state financial institutions, if they “implicate major fiscal or financial interests of the State” and it is necessary to “safeguard national economic security” (arts. 22–24 as amended). The amendment also grants auditors additional powers such as the ability to access additional types of documents and bank accounts (arts. 34, 36–37). The amendment will enter into force on January 1, 2022.
Aside from the decision authorizing property tax pilots, the NPCSC on Saturday approved two other reform authorizations.
The first, requested by the State Council, suspends two provisions in the Metrology Law [计量法] in the six “pilot cities for business environment innovation”: Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Those provisions require that a company’s internal “highest standard instruments of measurement” [最高计量标准器具]—essentially the company’s most precise measurement standards that are used as references for calibration—be assessed by the weights and measures department and undergo compulsory calibration. Under the pilot, the companies in the six cities are allowed to manage such standards on their own, subject to other forms of regulatory oversight. This pilot will run for three years, until October 23, 2024.
The NPCSC also approved, per the State Council and Central Military Commission’s request, a decision (our translation) authorizing the suspension of unspecified provisions in four laws—National Defense Mobilization Law [国防动员法], Civil Air Defense Law [人民防空法], National Defense Transportation Law [国防交通法], and National Defense Education Law [国防教育法]—that concern the following matters:
the leadership and management structure, configuration of military-civilian functions, and working body setup relating to national defense mobilization, as well as to people’s armed mobilization, economic mobilization, civil air defense, transportation war preparedness, and national defense education; and the command and use of national defense mobilization resources . . . .
As with past authorizations of military reforms, no further information is given about the planned changes. But the National Defense Law [国防法] as revised in 2020 suggests that the State Council would no longer play a leading role in national defense mobilization or national defense education. This authorization will expire once the five laws are amended to codify the reforms.