On Monday, May 29, China’s national legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), released its legislative work plan for 2023 (Plan). The Plan was preliminarily approved by the Council of Chairpersons in December 2022 and finalized on April 14. It sets forth priorities for all aspects of the NPCSC’s legislative work in 2023, which include a list of legislative projects scheduled for review or research this year. Other aspects of the NPCSC’s legislative work include upholding the Communist Party’s leadership of lawmaking, implementing the Constitution, dealing with expiring reform authorizations, and improving legislative procedure. We, as usual, will focus on the list of legislative projects in this post, but will also note a few other notable tasks included in the Plan.
Legislative agenda overview. The Plan schedules 35 projects for review in 2023: 17 that have been carried over from the 13th NPC and 18 that would be reviewed for the first time. The main themes of this year’s legislation include government institutional reforms, economic reforms, social welfare, environment and resources, education and ideology, foreign relations, as well as national and domestic security.
Completed projects. Because the Plan was initially approved in late 2022, it includes three bills that have since been enacted:
- amendment to the Legislation Law [立法法] (adopted on Mar. 13);
- revision to the Counterespionage Law [反间谍法] (adopted on Apr. 26); and
- Qinghai–Tibet Plateau Ecological Conservation Law [青藏高原生态保护法] (adopted on Apr. 26).
In addition, the draft Barrier-Free Environments Development Law [无障碍环境建设法] went through a second review in April in accordance with the Plan.
Returning bills. The other 13 bills that were pending by the end of the 13th NPC’s term will return for further review according to the following schedule:
New bills. The NPCSC also plans to review the following 18 bills this year (without setting any specific timetable):
|Amendments or revisions|
There are few surprises in the list above. All those projects have appeared in one or more of the 13th NPCSC’s various legislative plans, except for technically two projects (but really only one). The first, a new batch of amendments to the Criminal Law, is in fact expected. Since the Criminal Law’s last comprehensive overhaul in 1997, each NPC has amended the statute at least once, and it looks like the 14th NPC will be no exception. The one truly novel project is the proposed Patriotic Education Law. A December 2022 report by the NPC Constitution and Law Committee revealed that the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission had already begun drafting such a law in consultation with the relevant Communist Party bodies. The stated goal was to implement Xi Jinping’s “important instructions” and the Party’s “major decisions and arrangements” on patriotic education, including the 2019 Outline for Implementing Patriotic Education in the New Era [新时代爱国主义教育实施纲要].
Potential unenumerated projects. Like its previous iterations, the Plan leaves open the possibility that the NPCSC would need to consider other legislative projects during the year to accommodate urgent legislative needs in certain areas, including issues resulting from the recent State Council reorganization, public health, foreign-related issues, military policy and system, as well as law-based governance of cybersecurity.
Backup projects. The Plan concludes the NPCSC’s 2023 legislative agenda with a list of 25 “backup projects.” These are bills that most likely will be enacted in the end, but for now are lower priority so are unlikely to come before the NPCSC in 2023. Of course, legislative priorities may shift in the course of a year, and some backup projects, like the recent Counterespionage Law revision, may be prioritized. (Bill pages are not always available for backup projects.)
|Amendments or revisions|
Other key legislative tasks in 2023. As mentioned earlier, the Plan is not solely concerned with lawmaking in the narrow sense, but also make arrangements for other related tasks under the umbrella of “legislative work.” Here, we would like to highlight three such tasks:
- Two reform authorizations will expire later in the year: one allowing Hong Kong and Macao lawyers to practice mainland law in nine cities within the Greater Bay Area (to expire in October); and the other authorizing the Supreme People’s Court to reposition the adjudicatory roles of China’s four levels of court (to expire in September). The NPCSC is expected to either codify the pilot reforms in some fashion or to renew them.
- The 14th NPCSC is in the course of drafting its five-year legislative plan and is expected to release it in the fall.
- The NPCSC will adopt measures to “improve and strengthen the system of recording and review,” which, according to our academic contacts in China, can be expected in June. “Recording and review” [备案审查] is the process whereby various other state institutions record their legislation with the NPCSC for its subsequent review. It is an important tool for central authorities to monitor local compliance with national law and policy. It also serves as the procedural vehicle for post-enactment constitutional review in China.