NPC 2023: Amendments to China’s “Statutory Constitution” of Lawmaking

Editor’s Note (Mar. 16, 2023): We have updated this post in accordance with the final text of the amendments adopted on March 13. The original version of this post is archived here.

For the ninth year in a row, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) considered and adopted legislation at its annual session earlier this month. This year’s bill was amendments to the Legislation Law [立法法] (Bill), previously reviewed in October and December 2022. The Legislation Law is an important statute with semi-constitutional status. It serves three principal purposes: it demarcates the legislative authority of various state institutions; regulates (to varying extent) their legislative procedures; and prescribes a hierarchy of legal norms, along with the attendant mechanism to enforce that hierarchy, called “recording and review” [备案审查].

The Bill has made an array of amendments to provisions in all three areas. In this post, we will offer a relatively thorough discussion of the Bill, proceeding in the order of legislative authority, procedure, and hierarchy. In each section below, we will discuss more important amendments in the order they appear in the Bill, and briefly summarize minor ones at the end of the section. We will not mention amendments that simply repeat the provisions of other laws. All in-line citations are to the Legislation Law as amended by the Bill.

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“Sweep Away Darkness, Eliminate Evil”: A Belated Overview of China’s First Organized Crime Law

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In December 2021, the NPC Standing Committee adopted the Anti–Organized Crime Law (AOCL or Law) [反有组织犯罪法], China’s first statute dedicated to combatting organized crime. The Law has taken effect on May 1, 2022. It came at a time when the Communist Party’s three-year campaign to “clear out the underworld” (or saohei, short for “扫黑除恶,” literally “sweep away darkness and eliminate evil”) that began in 2018 was wrapping up and when central authorities were calling for the “normalization” of the saohei campaign.

China previously launched two similarly named special actions in the 2000s to “crack down on the underworld,” or dahei (short for “打黑除恶”). The difference in one character, however, gave the latest saohei campaign a broader scope. Rather than fight organize crime in a whack-a-mole fashion primarily to ensure public safety, saohei is “inherently political”: it is expressly aimed at solidifying the Party’s rule down to the lowest levels of governance. To that end, China’s national criminal justice authorities issued a series of guidance documents to broadly define “organized crime” and related concepts, call for whole-of-society efforts to prevent organized crime, set forth special criminal procedures and powers, and penalize corrupt officials who enable such criminal activities.

The AOCL is a key tool to “normalize” the saohei campaign. It was enacted in part to “safeguard national security, social order, and economic order,” and incorporated many of the measures contained in the guidance documents. As saohei will remain part of the Party’s social governance program for at least the next five years, below we take a belated look at the AOCL.

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Constitutional Review in Lawmaking and Emergency Legislation: A First Look at Draft Amendments to China’s Legislation Law

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.

Cover of a hard copy of the Legislation Law

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.

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Legislation Summary: China’s New Law to Fight Telecom and Internet Fraud

Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

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 joint opinions 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.

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Building Capacity Through Procedure

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.

The latest amendments came at what in retrospect could be a pivotal moment for the NPC. The Communist Party held its first-ever conference on improving the people’s congress system last October, and subsequently issued a policy document on the same subject (so far available only in summary form). Meanwhile, the national legislature has been undertaking a systematic effort to codify or update rules governing its powers and procedures, including the NPC’s organic statute and procedural rules as well as standalone instruments on the NPCSC’s oversight of the central budget, state-owned assets, and economic planning. For the most part, the amendments to the Rules reiterate key provisions in those laws and memorialize some of the NPCSC’s other existing practices.

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.

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NPC Standing Committee Authorizes Property Tax Pilots (with Translation of the Authorization)

On Saturday, October 23, China took an important, albeit small, step toward enacting a nationwide “real estate tax” [房地产税], commonly called “property tax” (we will use these terms interchangeably below). The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) adopted a decision authorizing the State Council to carry out property tax pilots in selected, as yet unspecified, regions, for at least five years. Reflecting the ongoing intense debates within the party-state, the decision lacks essential details about the proposed new tax and the pilots, and instead grants the State Council broad authority to design them.

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Legislation Summary: Hong Kong National Security Law

The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) unanimously approved the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法] (Law) on the morning of Tuesday, June 30. That afternoon, the NPCSC separately listed the Law in Annex III to the Hong Kong Basic Law so that it can be enforced in the city. The Law took effect in Hong Kong later that day, at 11 p.m., when it was made public for the first time. The NPCSC previously released (via Xinhua) an excerpted explanation of the Law, which we have summarized here. For now, we will not restate what we already covered in that prior summary, in the interest of time. Instead, here, we will focus on the criminal provisions of the Law (which have heretofore been withheld) and other significant provisions that were not previously disclosed.

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Legislation Summary: New Statute Governing Public Employees’ Conduct

René Magritte, Golconda (Golconde), 1953. Photo (cropped) by C. Herscovici (Artists Rights Society), via The Menil Collection.

On June 20, the NPC Standing Committee approved the Law on Governmental Sanctions for Public Employees [公职人员政务处分法] (Law or Governmental Sanctions Law). An unofficial English translation of the Law is available here. This Law is a companion statute of the 2018 Supervision Law [监察法], which established the supervision commissions [监察委员会] and empowers them to “give . . . decisions on governmental sanctions to public employees who have broken the law in accordance with legally prescribed procedures” (art. 45, para. 1, item 2). The Law, with 68 articles in seven chapters, implements this provision by laying down a set of both substantive and procedural disciplinary rules tailor-made for all public employees. Its core provisions start by setting forth the types of governmental sanctions and the general rules on their use, then provide for a long list of unlawful conduct and the corresponding sanctions, and end with the procedures for giving and reviewing sanctions decisions. The following summary will proceed in the same manner.

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NPCSC Releases Some Details of Draft Hong Kong National Security Law, But Withholds Information on Criminal Provisions

On Saturday, June 20, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) disclosed some details of the highly anticipated draft Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法]. It did not release the draft that it reviewed this week. Rather, the state-run Xinhua News Agency published an excerpt from the explanation of the draft; an unofficial translation of part of the excerpt is available here. As of this writing, the NPCSC has not officially solicited public comments on the draft. Below, we will introduce the main contents of the draft Law (as summarized by the explanation), with brief analysis of certain provisions.

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2020 NPC Session: A Guide to China’s Civil Code (Updated)

UPDATE (July 5, 2020): The NPC adopted the Civil Code on May 28 with 2879 votes in favor, 2 against, and 5 abstentions. We have updated this guide (including all citations and quotations) in accordance with the Code’s final text. We also discussed some of the final substantive changes to the prior draft: additions made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are listed under the heading “COVID-19 Update,” while other new provisions are incorporated into the summary itself and are indicated in red.

As the NPC comes into session today to review a draft of the People’s Republic’s first Civil Code [民法典], a legislative marathon will soon come to an end. The Code is a massive piece of legislation. Its latest draft includes 1260 articles, teeming with arcane legal terminology. Thus, if you want to read it for yourself, you might find the task daunting. In this post, we hope to make the Code just a bit more accessible. But our task here is a moderate one: we will not (and cannot) do a deep dive into the Code. Instead, we will give a brief overview of the Code’s drafting history, explain its significance, and provide a quick introduction to each of the Code’s subdivisions. We will focus on the new rules in the Code that have caught our attention, as well as issues that have engendered the most heated (sometimes quite public) debates.

All citations to the Code below are to its final version; other sources are not always cited. You can find all relevant legislative documents and prior drafts on this page.

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