Covering China’s National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee
Changhao Wei is the founder, manager, and editor of NPC Observer. He is a Fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center of Yale Law School, where he focuses on China’s legislative process and constitutional enforcement mechanisms. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School, and a bachelor’s degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Editor’s Note (Feb. 28, 2023): The draft amendments to the Legislation Law went through a second review in December 2022. Our overview of the second draft is available here. The provisions discussed in this post have not been changed.
Last month, China’s national legislature, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), reviewed draft amendments to the Legislation Law [立法法] (Draft), an important statute with semi-constitutional status. The Law, in sum, has three functions: it demarcates the authority of various law/rule-making bodies; regulates (to varying extent) their legislative procedures (in particular those of the national legislature); and prescribes a hierarchy of legal norms, along with attendant rules on how to apply conflicting norms and mechanisms for resolving such conflicts (the so-called “recording and review” [备案审查] process). Today, to engage with China’s legal developments—whether as part of research, commentary, reporting, advocacy, or doing business—it is increasingly crucial to understand the type of legislative power a governmental body has and the process whereby it issues binding rules.
The Draft would bring about changes in all three areas: authority, procedure, and hierarchy. Some of the changes are technical, some are substantive but not ground-breaking, others are confusing and require clarification, while a few do deserve attention now, especially from those interested in submitting comments (the comments period closes on November 29). Below we highlight two that fall in the last category. As the Draft may undergo moderate to substantial revisions, we will publish a more thorough summary after its second review, expected in December. A final review by the full NPC is expected next March.
The Council of Chairpersons decided on Thursday, October 13 to convene the 37th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) from October 26 to 30, shortly after the Communist Party’s upcoming 20th National Congress (to open on October 16) closes. Seven bills are on the tentative agenda, which we preview below.
UPDATE (Nov. 8, 2022): We have posted a full English translation of Prof. Liang’s request for review.
Maternity insurance [生育保险] is one of the five programs that make up China’s social insurance system. Funded by employer contributions, maternity insurance reimburses women for pregnancy- and childbirth-related medical expenses and offers them a source of income during maternity leave. In all provinces except Guangdong, however, single women have been ineligible for maternity insurance benefits. Local legislation requires claimants to provide their marriage license or some other government-issued document available only to married couples, in effect barring single women from obtaining the benefits. In a legal battle that spanned four years, Zou Xiaoqi, a single mother from Shanghai, repeatedly challenged the city’s discriminatory policy in court but ultimately to no avail. (In late 2020, Shanghai suddenly dropped the marriage requirement, but reversed course just a few months later.)
Telecom and online fraud has grown rampant in China in the past decade. According to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), scammers have defrauded victims of more than 35 billion RMB (~5 billion USD) in 2020 alone. In 2021, public security organs nationwide cracked over 394,000 cases of telecom and online fraud and arrested over 630,000 suspects. Meanwhile, the crime of aiding criminal activities on information networks (including telecom and online fraud) has become the third most-prosecuted crime in China, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) recently disclosed.
At the same time, fraudsters continue to upgrade their tactics and operations. They take advantage of new technologies to reach more potential victims and to evade prosecution. Relying on leaked or stolen sensitive personal information, they also target susceptible victims with precision by impersonating police officers and other government officials or by exploiting the victim’s personal circumstances. As domestic crackdown intensifies, many scammers have moved their operations overseas to regions such as northern Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. According to the SPC, as of mid-2021, more than 60% of telecom- and online-fraud cases now originate from overseas “hotspots.”
Since 2020, national criminal justice authorities, telecom regulator, and the central bank have launched multiple joint operations to crack down on the illegal trade in SIM cards as well as bank cards and other payment accounts. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has also worked with immigration authorities to break up rings that smuggle people overseas to become scammers. In addition, the SPC, SPP, and MPS have released two jointopinions to clarify the application of related crimes and criminal procedural rules in telecom- and online-fraud cases.
The new Law Against Telecom and Online Fraud [反电信网络诈骗法], adopted by the NPC Standing Committee on September 2, is the latest official action to tackle such crimes. It supplements criminal statutes by prescribing administrative punishments for those who organize or otherwise directly participate in less serious cases of telecom and online fraud (art. 38, para. 2). The bulk of its provisions, however, focus on preventing such fraud from occurring in the first place. Below we take a close look at this new law.
English translations will be provided if and when available. All explanatory documents are in Chinese. The NPCSC also reviewed a draft revision to the Counterespionage Law [反间谍法] at this week’s session, but did not release it for public comments today.
China’s stringent “dynamic zero-Covid” policy, despite its great human and economic costs, is here to stay. The policy relies on mass testing, movement controls via “health codes,” strict lockdowns, and quarantine mandates to stamp out outbreaks. Noncompliance with those restrictions is fairly common, and the police’s preferred enforcement tool has been Article 50 of the Public Security Administrative Punishments Law (PSAPL) [治安管理处罚法]. This provision authorizes a warning, a fine of up to 500 RMB, or 5–10 days in administrative detention for those who flout official anti-Covid “decisions or orders,” depending on the severity of their violations.
To the police, Article 50 is more useful than criminal-law alternatives. The “crime of obstructing the prevention and control of infectious diseases” [妨害传染病防治罪], for instance, requires the defendant to actually spread Covid-19 or create a “serious risk” of its transmission. This charge therefore cannot be brought against someone who, say, refuses mass testing but otherwise has no Covid-19 symptoms or close contact with someone who has tested positive. In addition, as the police may enforce Article 50 alone, they are relieved of the procedural and evidentiary burden that comes with criminal prosecutions.
There is, however, one precondition for invoking Article 50: the government “decisions or orders” violated must be issued in a “state of emergency” [紧急状态]. Law professor Tong Zhiwei [童之伟], among many other scholars, has argued in a since-censoredopen letter that the phrase in Article 50 refers to a constitutional state of emergency, which may be declared only by the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) or the State Council. Because neither has done so, the argument goes, the police could not lawfully use Article 50 to penalize noncompliance with Covid restrictions.
Below, we first delve into the debate over the scope of “state of emergency” in Article 50, before examining how Article 50 has been used in practice and why the issue persists.
On June 24, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) approved the first set of amendments to its Rules of Procedure (Rules) [全国人民代表大会常务委员会议事规则] in over a decade. The Rules are a national law that governs how the NPCSC conducts business. They regulate the convening and conduct of sessions, the submission and deliberation of bills and reports, debate and voting procedures, and other technical procedural matters.
Viewed in that larger context, the amendments make up part of a conscious effort to subtly enhance the NPCSC’s capacity as a lawmaking and oversight body—one that follows the Party’s commands itself and, acting as the Party’s agent, also ensures other state organs do the same. The amended Rules therefore leave room for both deliberation and efficiency in the legislative process, and institutionalize procedural tools that enable more rigorous NPCSC oversight.
The Council of Chairpersons decided on Friday, July 29 to convene the 36th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) over a month later, from August 30 to September 2. With only five bills, the legislative agenda is comparatively light for a session held in August and in the last year of an NPCSC’s term. Perhaps the pace of legislation will pick up later in the year. Below we briefly preview the upcoming session.
On July 11, 2022, the NPC Standing Committee’s Legislative Affairs Commission (Commission) released two of its “legal inquiry responses” [法律询问答复] issued during the past year. As we have discussed in depth in this post, such responses clarify the applicable law in real-world scenarios at the request of central governmental bodies or provincial legislatures. They are not universally binding, but are considered highly persuasive—hence a form of “soft law”—because of the Commission’s pivotal role in lawmaking. The batch released on Monday is smaller than those released in previousyears, but most likely only represents a minuscule portion of all legal inquiry responses the Commission issued in 2021. The two selected responses concern, respectively, the enforcement of a new statutory prohibition on entertainment venues near kindergartens and the extent of a municipal legislature’s authority to promote the private sector of the local economy. We explain them in turn below.
The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) concluded its 35th session on Friday, June 24, with the approval of four bills: amendments to the Anti-Monopoly Law [反垄断法] and the NPCSC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会常务委员会议事规则], a revised Sports Law [体育法], and a new Black Soil Protection Law [黑土地保护法]. Below, we will first briefly discuss the Anti-Monopoly Law amendment before focusing on the new Sports Law and Black Soil Protection Law. We will leave the NPCSC’s updated procedural rules for a separate post.