A Guide to China’s 2023 State Council Restructuring

UPDATE #2 (Mar. 23, 2023): Chinese authorities released the full Party and State Institutional Reform Plan on March 16, and the new State Council announced its organizational structure on March 20. We have accordingly updated our bilingual State Council organizational chart and this guide. Click here to jump to the update.

UPDATE #1 (Mar. 10, 2023): The NPC approved the State Council Institutional Reform Plan on March 10 and has released its full text, which is identical to the version discussed in this post.

On Tuesday, March 7, China unveiled details of its 2023 State Council Institutional Reform Plan (Plan) [国务院机构改革方案]. The National People’s Congress (NPC) is set to approve the Plan on March 9, ahead of its votes to appoint a new slate of State Council officials on March 10–11. This would be the ninth round of State Council reorganization since the Reform Era began. Previous rounds took place in 1982, 1988, and every five years thereafter.

The Plan is not as extensive as the previous round of State Council restructuring in 2018, but there is an important caveat we will discuss shortly. The Plan would alter the functions of about a dozen agencies and create two new ones. Highlights include (we are not experts on these agencies, so for the most part will simply repeat what the Plan says):

  • having the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) play a bigger role in improving the “new type of whole-nation system” for achieving technological breakthroughs and strengthening its “macro-management functions” relating to science and technology;
  • restructuring China’s financial regulators by, among other changes, creating a new National Financial Regulatory Administration [国家金融监督管理总局] to oversee the whole financial industry (except securities);
  • establishing a new National Data Administration [国家数据局] under the National Development and Reform Commission to, among others, “coordinate and promote the development of basic data systems” and “coordinate the integrated sharing, development, and use of data resources;
  • elevating the China National Intellectual Property Administration to a top-level agency under State Council, so that it is no longer subordinate to (and now on a par with) the State Administration for Market Regulation; and
  • ordering an across-the-board 5% cut in the bianzhi [编制] of all central agencies (i.e., their authorized number of personnel) and allocating those positions to “key areas and important work” (without elaborating).

Here is the caveat: The Plan is only part of a broader plan to restructure Communist Party and state institutions. As disclosed in the Plan’s explanation, the broader plan will, for instance, establish a new Party entity called the Central Sci-Tech Commission [中央科技委员会], and MOST will act as its administrative body. So the as-yet undisclosed document could have further implications for the State Council’s structure, either by creating additional Party entities to oversee State Council agencies, or by outright turning some State Council agencies into Party entities (like what happened in 2018). Such changes do not require NPC approval as long as they do not reorganize the so-called “departments constituting the State Council.”

We expect the broader Party and State Institutional Reform Plan to be released soon, most likely after the ongoing NPC session closes next Monday. Soon thereafter the new State Council leadership will approve a new organizational structure based on that document. In the months that follow, the Party organization overseeing institutional reforms will issue new sanding [三定] provisions—documents that govern an agency’s functions, internal structure, and approved number of personnel—for each Party or state entity affected by this year’s restructuring (although not all of such documents will be made public).

Our color-coded summary of the Plan is embedded below. The summary shows only the Plan’s changes to agency functions and classification; it does not capture its restructuring of sub-national or sub-agency entities or its provisions on personnel issues. Three agencies—the National Development and Reform Commission, the National Health Commission, and the China Securities Regulatory Commission—would both lose and gain functions under the Plan; we made several judgment calls in characterizing the Plan’s impact on them in the summary. For additional coverage of the Plan, please see this post by the the Substack newsletter Ginger River Review.

Categories of State Council bodies explained

The two principal legal authorities governing the State Council’s organizational structure are the 1982 State Council Organic Law (“Organic Law”) [国务院组织法] and the 1997 Regulations on the Management of the Establishment and Staffing of the Administrative Agencies of the State Council (“Regulations”) [国务院行政机构设置和编制管理条例].

General Office of the State Council
The General Office performs administrative tasks for the State Council, assisting the State Council leadership in “handling the [body’s] day-to-day work” (Regulations art. 6, para. 2). It is headed by the Secretary General of the State Council (Organic Law art. 7, para. 3).
Departments Constituting the State Council
These departments “perform the basic administrative functions of the State Council” (Regulations art. 6, para. 3). They consist of the cabinet-level ministries and commissions, as well as the People’s Bank of China and the National Audit Office. The establishment, dissolution, or merger of these departments are subject to legislative approval (Organic Law art. 8).
Special Organization Directly Under the State Council
There is only one such organization: the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC), established in 2003. The SASAC oversees central state-owned (non-financial) enterprises on behalf of the central government. It was placed in a special category because its authority to manage only state-owned enterprises was thought to distinguish it from both traditional administrative agencies and public institutions.
Organizations Directly Under the State Council
These organizations are each in charge of certain “specialized work” and perform “independent administrative functions” (Regulations art. 6, para. 4). They have no parent organization other than the State Council itself.
Administrative Offices Under the State Council
These offices, under the Regulations, are supposed to only assist the Premier with “specialized matters” and have no “independent administrative functions” (Regulations art. 6, para. 5). That is no longer true in the case of the Cyberspace Administration of China, however, as it is now a regulatory agency with the authority to issue and enforce rules.
Public Institutions Under the State Council
These institutions include state media outlets, governmental research institutions, as well as one entity that, while not an administrative agency per se, has been vested by law with regulatory powers: the China Meteorological Administration.
National Administrations Under the Ministries and Commissions
These administrations used to be called “national administrative agencies managed by the departments constituting the State Council” [国务院组成部门管理的国家行政机构] (Regulations art. 6, para. 6). They are semi-independent bodies that perform administrative functions, subject to oversight by their parent organizations (id.).
Deliberative and Coordinating Bodies Under the State Council
These bodies are responsible for “organizing and coordinating important tasks” across State Council agencies (Regulations art. 6, para. 7). Generally, such a body may not perform administrative functions in its own name; rather, its decisions are to be implemented by its member agencies separately (id.). Some of these bodies are established directly by statutes or regulations, such as the Anti-Monopoly Committee [国务院反垄断委员会], while the rest (often called “leading groups” [领导小组]) are formed by the State Council on a quasi-permanent basis, such as the Leading Group on Employment [国务院就业工作领导小组], established in 2019.
Terms describing dual institutional identities explained
(Literal Translation)
English ShorthandExplanation
(A also has nameplate B)
A is “akaBA is the entity’s dominant role, while B is necessary because the entity performs certain functions that are not adequately described by A. This relationship typically arises when an entity acquires new functions (covered by B) during a State Council reorganization.
(A keeps nameplate B externally)
A is “externally akaBThis relationship typically arises when A absorbs the functions of B, previously a separate agency or an agency under A, and B is then dissolved. A is the new entity’s dominant role, but maintaining B is necessary because of, for instance, the body’s strategic importance or the need to interact with foreign counterparts.
(A keeps its nameplate at B)
A has its “functions performed byBThis relationship, in which A is a State identity and B is a Communist Party identity, first appeared after the 2018 State Council reorganization. B has in effect absorbed A, which now exists in name only (presumably to maintain a technical, formal distinction between the Party and the State). In addition to its preexisting functions, B now also performs A’s.
(A and B are the same entity with two nameplates)
A is the “same asBIn this relationship, too, there is only one real entity, which wears both a State (A) and a Party (B) hat. Organizationally, the entity is a Party entity, as it is always described as being included in the order of a certain category of Party institutions (e.g., “列入中共中央直属机构序列”).

UPDATE (Mar. 23, 2023): The full Party and State Institutional Reform Plan additionally affects State Council agencies in the ways discussed below. Note: This update does not fully introduce the Party entities mentioned below, nor is it a complete summary of the Reform Plan. For additional coverage, please see this post by Ginger River Review.

  • A new Central Financial Commission [中央金融委员会] will be established as a “body for coordinating decisionmaking and deliberation” under the Central Committee. As a result—
    • The Financial Stability and Development Committee of the State Council [国务院金融稳定发展委员会] (a State Council “deliberative and coordinating body”) and its administrative office will be dissolved. The duties of the Committee’s administrative office will be incorporated into the administrative office of the new Commission.
  • A new Central Science and Technology Commission [中央科技委员会] will be established as a “body for coordinating decisionmaking and deliberation” under the Central Committee. As a result—
    • The restructured Ministry of Science and Technology as a whole will act as the new Commission’s administrative body;
    • The National Science and Technology Ethics Committee [国家科技伦理委员会], a State Council “deliberative and coordinating body,” will be reclassified as an “academic and specialized expert committee” led by the new Commission; and
    • Three State Council deliberative and coordinating bodies, along with their administrative offices, will be dissolved: the National Leading Group for Sci-Tech [国家科技领导小组], National Leading Group for Reforming the Sci-Tech System and Developing the Innovation System [国家科技体制改革和创新体系建设领导小组], and National Leading Group for Planning Medium- and Long-Term Sci-Tech Development [国家中长期科技发展规划工作领导小组].
  • A new Central Social Work Department [中央社会工作部] will be established as a functional department of the Central Committee. This new Department will—
    • exercise “unified leadership” over the reclassified National Public Complaints and Proposals Administration; and
    • take over the duties of the Ministry of Civil Affairs to “guide the development of the system and capacity for governing urban and rural communities and draft social work policies.”
  • A new Central Hong Kong and Macao Work Office [中央港澳工作办公室] will be established as an administrative body under the Central Committee. It will also be known as the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, which is an administrative office under the State Council but will henceforth exist in name only.

This post was written by Changhao Wei, with input from Taige Hu
The summary was jointly prepared by Taige Hu and Zewei (Whiskey) Liao, with edits by Changhao Wei

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