Legislation Analysis: NPC Standing Committee Approves Overhaul of Hong Kong’s Electoral System

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Just shy of twenty days after the National People’s Congress (NPC) had authorized and outlined a drastic overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) on Tuesday, March 30 finalized details of the overhaul. The NPCSC unanimously approved revisions to Annexes I and II to the Hong Kong Basic Law, which respectively govern the selection of the Chief Executive and formation of the Legislative Council. The revisions took effect on March 31. Below we will take an in-depth look at the electoral overhaul. More detailed discussion of the previous election rules can be found in our explainer of the NPC’s March 11 decision.

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NPC Calendar: April 2021

The Biosecurity Law [生物安全法] takes effect on April 15.

The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) is expected to convene for its 28th session in late April. The Council of Chairpersons is expected to meet in mid-April to decide on the agenda and dates of the session. The session will likely consider a draft resolution on carrying out the 8th five-year popularization of basic legal knowledge. The session may also review one or more of the following bills:

The NPCSC is expected to release its annual plans on legislative, oversight, and delegates work for 2021 after this month’s session.

NPCSC to Revise Hong Kong Basic Law Annexes, Implementing NPC’s Electoral Overhaul Decision

Editor’s Note: The NPCSC unanimously approved revisions to Annexes I and II to the Hong Kong Basic Law on March 30. Our comprehensive explanation and analysis of Hong Kong’s new election rules is available here.

The Council of Chairpersons decided on Monday, March 22 to convene the 27th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) from March 29 to 30. The NPCSC will consider two bills to revise Annexes I and II to the Hong Kong Basic Law, which govern, respectively, the selection of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and the formation of the city’s Legislative Council. The revisions are undertaken to implement the “basic principles” and “core elements” of the NPC’s March 11 decision to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. We have explained the NPC decision’s contents and implications in this post. In short, it introduces mechanisms to ensure candidates for elected offices are “patriots” and to give the pro-establishment camp a decided edge in future elections.

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2021 NPC Session: Documents List

The 4th Session of the 13th NPC concluded on Thursday, March 11, after having approved all reports and bills submitted to it for consideration. As usual, we provide below a list of all official documents from this Session. Unless otherwise noted, all documents are available in Chinese only.

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2021 NPC Session: NPC’s Hong Kong Electoral Overhaul Decision Explained

Editor’s Note: The NPCSC revised Annexes I and II to the Hong Kong Basic Law on March 30. Our explanation and analysis of Hong Kong’s new election rules is available here.

Another year, another NPC decision on Hong Kong. On Thursday, March 11, the National People’s Congress, with 2895 votes in favor and 1 abstention, approved the Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Decision) [关于完善香港特别行政区选举制度的决定], which takes immediate effect. The Decision comes on the heels of a series of events in the past two years: mass protests against the Hong Kong government’s extradition bill (since withdrawn), opposition lawmakers’ use of filibusters to delay proceedings, and pro-democracy primaries for the now-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election. (Almost fifty activists involved in the primaries have been charged with violating the Hong Kong National Security Law.) The Decision’s explanatory document cites all those events as evidence of the “clear loopholes and deficiencies” in Hong Kong’s current electoral system—which it says have been exploited by “anti-China, destabilizing elements” to attempt to seize the “power to administer [Hong Kong].” It is therefore “important,” the explanation continues, “to take necessary steps to improve the electoral system and remove existing institutional deficiencies and risks to ensure the administration of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with patriots as the main body.” The Decision marks the first of those steps. Below, we will first provide an overview of the Decision, before discussing in detail the changes it will make to Hong Kong’s electoral system.

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2021 NPC Session: Agenda & Daily Schedule

The National People’s Congress (NPC) has released its 2021 Session’s agenda and daily schedule of meetings. The Session will open on the morning of Friday, March 5 and close on the afternoon of Thursday, March 11, lasting a total of seven days. The Session has not released a full schedule of press conferences; we will update this post when new press conferences are announced. All times below are in China Standard Time (UTC +8:00). If you are new to the NPC and its annual sessions, remember to check out this FAQ.

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2021 NPC Session: Dissecting the Amendments to the NPC’s Two Governing Laws (Updated)

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, March 11, the NPC approved the two amendments discussed in this post; both have taken effect on March 12. We have updated this post consistent the amendments’ final texts, which are accessible from the respective bill pages.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) concluded its 2021 session on Thursday, March 11. It is the seventh year in a row—the second-longest streak post-1978 (after 1988–1997)—that the NPC reviews legislation at its annual plenary session. This year, besides a decision to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, the NPC also reviewed and approved amendments to its own governing laws: the NPC Organic Law [全国人民代表大会组织法] and the NPC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会议事规则]. The former outlines the NPC’s organizational structure and prescribes the functions of its various components, whereas the latter lays out the procedures for conducting business in the full NPC.

Before this week, neither law had ever been updated. The NPC Organic Law was enacted on December 10, 1982, the same day as China’s current Constitution, and the NPC Rules of Procedure seven years later, in April 1989. The amendments thus focus heavily on codifying the changes in the NPC’s organization and practice in the last several decades. They also seek to modernize the two laws’ structures, delete irrelevant and duplicative provisions more suitable for other laws, and ensure that they are consistent with newer statutes, including the 1994 Budget Law [预算法] (amended in 2014 and 2018), 2000 Legislation Law [立法法] (amended in 2015), 2006 Oversight Law [各级人民代表大会常务委员会监督法], and 2018 Supervision Law [监察法].

As a result, few provisions in the amendments are truly novel, even though their texts span over dozens of pages. In this explainer, we will dissect the two amendments and sort out “new” provisions—which in fact will lead to changes in practice—from those that will not. The NPC Organic Law is abbreviated as “OL” below, and the NPC Rules of Procedure as “ROP.” Citations are to the two laws as amended, not to the amendments.

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NPC Calendar: March 2021 (Updated)

The Criminal Law Amendment (XI) [刑法修正案(十一)] and the Yangtze River Protection Law [长江保护法] take effect on March 1.

The 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) will convene for its fourth annual session on Friday, March 5. The session’s agenda has not yet been finalized, but we expect it to include following items:

  • Deliberate the Government Work Report;
  • Deliberate work reports by the NPC Standing Committee, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate;
  • Review the draft Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through 2035 [国民经济和社会发展第十四个五年规划和2035年远景目标纲要];
  • Review a report on the execution of the 2020 National Economic and Social Development Plan and on the draft 2021 National Economic and Social Development Plan; and review the draft 2021 National Economic and Social Development Plan;
  • Review a report on the execution of the 2020 Central and Local Budgets and on the draft 2021 Central and Local Budgets; and review the draft 2021 Central and Local Budgets;
  • Deliberate a draft amendment to the NPC Organic Law [全国人民代表大会组织法]; and
  • Deliberate a draft amendment to the NPC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会议事规则].

On March 4, the NPC session will convene for a preparatory meeting to select members of the Presidium (an ad hoc body of around 170 members that will preside over the session) and to finalize the session’s agenda. The Presidium will then immediately meet to decide on the session’s daily schedule and designate a spokesperson, among other matters. Shortly thereafter the session is expected to hold its first press conference.

As reported by various media outlets (SCMP; WSJ; NYT; Reuters), the NPC is also expected to review a bill that would overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. We expect the bill to be first announced at the press conference on March 4.

The NPC’s 2021 session is expected to last seven days, to close on March 11. All reports and bills submitted for review are expected to be approved that day.

Update (Feb. 28, 2021): The NPC Standing Committee is seeking public comments on a draft Stamp Tax Law [印花税法] through March 29, 2021.

NPC Launches Official Chinese Law Database: A Guide & Review

The National People’s Congress (NPC) on Wednesday, February 24 formally launched a database of Chinese legal authorities: the National Database of Laws and Regulations [国家法律法规数据库]. The Database has been years in the making. According to the Legal Daily, work on it started in November 2017 and was scheduled to complete by end of 2018. Yet it ended up taking a lot longer—and as we will discuss below, the Database still has had a bumpy start. In this post, we will introduce the types of legal authorities currently available in the Database. We will then discuss its three main functions: browsing, search, and download. And we will end with some concluding thoughts on the Database and look ahead to its future versions. The bottom line: the Database in its current form will not be our go-to platform for looking up Chinese legal documents.

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Demystifying the NPC’s Quasi-Legislative Decisions

As China’s supreme legislature, the NPC and its Standing Committee (NPCSC) make “laws” [法律]—or “statutes,” as we will refer to them below. Statutes in the constitutional sense are legal authorities (1) approved by a majority vote in either legislative body and (2) then promulgated by the P.R.C. President in a presidential order. They are most commonly titled “P.R.C. ××× Law” [中华人民共和国×××法]. Besides statutes, the legislature also routinely passes legal instruments styled as “decisions” [决定] (or occasionally “resolutions” [决议]).[1] Earlier in the spotlight, for instance, was an NPCSC decision that disqualified four pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators. Or the NPC’s May 28, 2020 decision that led to the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law. What is the nature of these “decisions”? Are they any different from the statutes? If so, to what extent? As the legislature (the NPCSC, in particular) makes increasing use of decisions, we explore these questions below.

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