The NPC and Its Standing Committee
Under Article 57 of the P.R.C. Constitution, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is the “highest organ of state power.” Together with its permanent body, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), it exercises the national legislative power in China.
Despite the clear wording of the Constitution, however, the NPC and the NPCSC are less often perceived as wielding paramount power than playing largely rubber-stamping roles. While utterly unflattering, this characterization certainly has some truth in it, but from which two questions arise: They rubber-stamp whose decisions? And to what extent?
Of course, a thousand arguments can be made that they obey the orders of the Chinese Communist Party. To date, the NPC and the NPCSC have predictably endorsed the Party’s every major policy decision: The still controversial Three Gorges Dam approved in 1992, for example, and the more recent plan for electing Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2017, passed by a unanimous vote. The subservience nonetheless isn’t absolute. As The Economist observed, the NPCSC, which passes the majority of China’s laws, often “pushes back against the [Party] leadership by insisting on substantial revisions to draft laws before moving them along.” A case in point was a highly contentious law regulating the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations, enacted in April 2016. Before the final passage of the law, the NPCSC apparently conducted lots of behind-the-scenes maneuverings so that the final version was markedly toned down than earlier drafts.
The NPCSC is even less of a rubber stamp for the decisions of other state organs, especially those dealing with more “mundane” issues. (All matters before the NPC are arguably major issues, so it’s hard to tell whether this statement applies to it.) Not all bills submitted to the NPCSC, as a matter of fact, have been passed. Instead of voting certain bills down, it has simply shelved them indefinitely, as its own way of rejecting them. In fact, there was one occasion—and the only one to date—where a bill, a proposed amendment to the Highway Law, failed to be approved by a majority of the members present. For the bills that eventually pass the NPCSC (which are still almost all the bills), vigorous discussions and changes to the drafts, minor or not, are to be expected prior to the final vote.
In sum, the NPC and the NPCSC are without any doubt important institutions that a keen China observer simply cannot ignore—whether as the constitutional highest organ of state power or, to a certain extent, as a de facto rubber stamp.
With all the above said, the NPC and the NPCSC aren’t the most accessible amongst China’s state organs. They are only in session for a limited period of time each year. Moreover, not long ago, the majority of their legislative activities were shrouded in secrecy—releasing draft laws under consideration for public comments has only become a regular practice (and one required by the Legislation Law) since the 12th NPC. Still, their level of transparency has been on the rise and their activities are fairly predictable. For instance, since many years ago, the NPCSC has started holding a bimonthly session at the end of every even-numbered month. In addition, the agenda for each session is always released in advance, subject to few subsequent alterations. Further, the NPC and NPCSC have closely followed the statutory provisions on the number of deliberations that need to take place before a bill can be passed, so there haven’t been any “surprise” new laws (at least in recent years).
An important mission of this Blog is to inform our readers of the two bodies’ legislative activities, which are mostly the events happening before, during, and immediately after their sessions. At times, we will also post articles on our observation and analysis of particular aspects of their work—for example, their legislative plans. However, we will in most instances refrain from commenting on and/or analyzing specific legislations, mainly due to our lack of familiarity with, much less expertise in, most areas of Chinese law. Still, we will provide the summaries or highlight certain provisions of select legislations that we think will interest the readers. We will cover important personnel decisions made by the NPC and the NPCSC as well.
For as long as this Blog exists, we will strive to promptly and accurately relay news from the NPC and the NPCSC to our readers and to help them better understand the two institutions. Furthermore, as the NPCSC has yet to exercise many of its constitutional powers, such as formally interpreting the Constitution (Article 67, Item 1) and annulling administrative regulations of the State Council for violating the Constitution and/or other laws (Article 67, Item 7), we are also excited about the possibility of witnessing history and sharing those moments, if they were to come, with our readers.
Thanks for reading and we hope you’ll enjoy this Blog!